UNISON warns stress epidemic threatens breakdown of ambulance service

Trade union UNISON has warned that the ambulance service is on the verge of breaking down as a result of high levels of stress among its staff.

A survey of 1,332 NHS ambulance workers released on 11 April has highlighted tight targets, long hours and the physical demands of the job have led to one in five saying that they have a ‘terrible’ work-life balance.

According to the survey, a third of respondents (34%) have taken time off work due to work-related stress in the past year. While some are looking to leave the profession, there are many who continue to suffer in silence, afraid of the repercussions should they make their voice heard.

It was also revealed that 74% of staff said they suffered from mood swings and irritability, two thirds said they were sleeping too little, and more than half suffered from anxiety.

UNISON Head of Health, Christina McAnea, said:

‘The Government needs to take work-related stress in the ambulance service seriously or it will break down.

‘Our members accept that their jobs can be physically demanding and challenging. However, some now tell us they are suffering from heart palpitations, flashbacks, nightmares, migraines, depression and an overall feeling of despair. As a result, many are actively looking to leave the profession.’

Higher call-out rates, extended waiting times outside A&E departments and the recent change of expected retirement age to 68 have all contributed to the increased anxiety among ambulance staff.

‘Work-related stress is the elephant in the room’ McAnea added. ‘Employers can’t keep on ignoring it. We expect them to do all they can to manage and where possible eliminate the risks to the health and welfare of their workforce.’

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 28 April 2014.

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