Pay survey reveals two thirds of paramedics considering leaving ambulance service

Adobe Spark (5)Two thirds of staff say they will consider leaving the ambulance service if a change to the pay banding of paramedics is not made, according to a survey carried out by the Journal of Paramedic Practice.

An online poll completed by 1084 paramedics has revealed that 67% will consider leaving the ambulance service if the Government continues to fall back on its 2015 promise of reviewing the banding system to recognise the skill set of paramedics. Additionally, 87% felt the Government has misled ambulance service staff over promises for pay.

One respondent said: ‘Increased pressure to use alternative pathways, treat at home, discharge on scene. Increased level of assessment and treatment options, together with increased expectation of qualifications and study, but for no extra pay? Ridiculous.’

Another said: ‘Several of my colleagues and friends are struggling to pay their home bills and have left the job for better paying roles in the Arab states.’

Commenting on the findings, Gerry Egan, chief executive officer for the College of Paramedics, said:

‘Since its establishment, the College of Paramedics has worked hard to develop the paramedic profession in the interests of providing the best possible care to patients and to ensure that paramedics receive due recognition for the service they give to society.

‘This combined with the increased reliance on paramedics by the health system, which has come about for a number of reasons, means that there has been a continuous increase in the expectations of the range and quality of services that paramedics provide. So it comes as no surprise that the results of the Journal of Paramedic Practice’s survey are similar to a survey conducted by the College of Paramedics last year.

In 2014, paramedics were among the thousands of health professionals who took to the picket line in the first NHS strike over pay in 32 years.

The dispute came as ministers in England awarded NHS staff a 1% increase in pay, but only for those without automatic progression-in-the-job rises.

Despite the independent NHS Pay Review Body recommending a 1% rise across all pay scales, ministers claimed this was an ‘unaffordable’ cost.

In a desperate effort to resolve the pay dispute of 2014/15, the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, agreed to a number of commitments to ambulance staff, including a review of the banding system.

Current vacancy rates for the paramedic profession are at 10%. This represents 1 250 vacancies out of a total workforce of 12 500. It is believed that these high vacancy rates are due to changes made to the healthcare system in recent years. This includes a shift in focus to treat patients at home rather than conveying them to A&E, as well as a change in the nature and volume of job opportunities for paramedics.

Almost all respondents (93%) of the survey believed that the current scope of practice of paramedics is changing as a result of increased skills and competencies. Additionally, 94% felt band 6 of the Agenda for Change pay scale was a more appropriate pay band due to the level of responsibility and autonomy practised within the paramedic role, including triage, referrals, and decisions around non conveyance. Overall, 96% believed their pay did not reflect their responsibilities.

However, not all believed that current pay for paramedics has contributed to increasing vacancy rates and the number of people leaving the profession.

‘I disagree that this would be a reason for paramedics leaving,’ said one respondent. ‘With the role having changed so much, I believe that our advanced practice colleagues (paramedic practitioner/emergency care practitioner) are leaving to work in hospitals. There is potential to earn more money, better chance of a break, and better working conditions. I disagree that pay alone is a reason staff are leaving.’

According to Egan, the significance behind the figures for those considering leaving the profession may be unclear:

‘The responses regarding those intending to leave their positions as paramedics may be blurred somewhat between those intending to leave ambulance service employers and those who might leave the profession,’ he said. ‘It is a well-known fact that many paramedics are leaving ambulance services to take up opportunities in walk-in centres, minor injuries units and the like.’

A large number of respondents felt that it was work pressures and stress that have contributed most to the number of paramedics leaving the ambulance service:

One respondent said: ‘I don’t think pay is a factor in staff leaving. Lack of retention [is] more likely due to increased workloads, poor culture and public expectation.’

Another respondent said: ‘There have been some paramedics with MSc or BSc that have left to find better paid jobs. But the majority of paramedics leaving the profession is due to the increasing workload and the undertaking of urgent care alongside emergency work. Demand, stress and pressure are why paramedics are leaving, not money.’

Stress and burnout remain an undeniable issue facing ambulance staff, with paramedics in England taking 41 243 days off in 2014 as a result of stress-related illnesses. This has had an inevitable impact on those choosing to leave the ambulance service. Only a handful of ambulance services have agreed to pay paramedics Agenda for Change band 6 in the hope of recruiting and retaining paramedics .

Another significant finding was that 66% of respondents believed there are no adequate opportunities for career progression.

A common consensus was that progression only came in the form of management positions, with few opportunities for promotion in a clinical capacity.

One respondent said: ‘There are a number of areas within the paramedic profession to progress to, such as critical care roles or minor health roles, or management; however, these areas still do not have the same pay scale as other health sectors, meaning progression, while increasing skills, does not increase pay, therefore [it] is seen as a way to gain skills in order to leave to a sector with increased pay.’

However, this was not felt by all, with one respondent highlighting the work that the College of Paramedics has done to outline career pathways:

‘The College of Paramedics (and South East Coast Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust) has done a lot to develop career pathways. Integration of the out-of-hours providers and the ambulance service would provide even more opportunity for paramedics to progress as well as improving the response times for patients.’

Commenting on the suggestion there are insufficient career progression opportunities within the paramedic profession, Egan said: ‘The College would argue that its career framework sets out the roadmap for career progression and the shortage of opportunities may be a problem to be addressed by the main employers of paramedics.’

As a result of the Government not reviewing the banding system for paramedics, the unions UNISON, GMB and Unite conducted consultative ballots of ambulance staff. The responses indicated that ambulance staff in England will take part in industrial action, including strike action, if the Government continues to not deliver in its promises over pay.

Each union is reporting their ballot results to members, before consulting over the next steps.

Results published by Unite show that 66% of members voted yes to taking strike action and action short of strike action, with a turnout of 31%.

Results from the other two unions have not yet been made public.

A joint statement issued by the unions said:

‘We are clear that ambulance staff have waited for 12 months and are not going to wait longer. If possible, we would also like to avoid a dispute, and the disruption that strike action will bring, however we know that ambulance staff are not prepared to wait indefinitely.

‘We will be calling on Government to make real commitments to ambulance staff, within clear timescales. If there is a genuine will to avert a dispute then we will pause the move to a full industrial action ballot while we hold constructive discussions.’

While the National Ambulance Strategic Partnership Forum have made a formal request to the National Job Evaluation Group to look at the National Job Evaluation paramedic profile, only a handful of ambulance services have agreed to pay paramedics Agenda for Change band 6 in the hope of recruiting and retaining paramedics. This includes East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust, West Midlands Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust, Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust. There is currently no indication that other services will follow suit.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 1 July 2016.

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Ambulance staff contemplate suicide due to poor mental health

Project M (1)‘It started to manifest itself after a failed resuscitation attempt on a child several years ago. While there were low-level symptoms over the years, and there were certain calls that would affect me more than others, there was much more severe recurrence after witnessing the aftermath of a plane crash over a year ago.’

Aryeh Myers, 39, is a paramedic for Magen David Adom, Israel’s national ambulance service. Before that he worked for London Ambulance Service NHS Trust for almost 10 years, as both an emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedic. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) just over a year ago.

Myers is one of an alarming number of paramedics whose mental health has suffered directly as a result of working for the ambulance service.

Recent figures published by mental health charity Mind revealed a third of ambulance staff surveyed contemplated taking their own lives due to stress and poor mental health. The results, taken from the responses of 1 600 emergency services staff and volunteers, including 308 in the ambulance service, also showed that 67% of ambulance staff contemplated leaving their job or voluntary role because of stress or poor mental health. A huge 93% reported experiencing stress, low mood and poor mental health at some point while working for the emergency services.

The figures also highlighted how 57% of ambulance staff took time off due to stress, low mood or poor mental health. These results reaffirm those published by The Observer that revealed over 40 000 days were lost by ambulance staff in 2014 due to mental health problems.

For Myers, he recalls how he took a month off work to begin treatment, including several sessions with a counsellor who taught him how to recognise triggers, how to partially ward them off, and particularly how to deal with the thoughts and reactions that those triggers bring.

‘It helped to a certain degree,’ he says. ‘At least I was able to go back to work. But there is, from what I’ve experienced, no way to completely get rid of PTSD, and certainly not if you continue working in the field where it was caused in the first place.’

Blue Light Programme

In October 2014, Mind was awarded LIBOR funding to deliver a programme to provide mental health support for emergency services staff and volunteers from police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue services across England up until 31 March 2016.

The Blue Light Programme focused on five main areas: tackling stigma and discrimination, embedding workplace wellbeing, building resilience of staff, providing information and support, and improving support pathways.

So far the programme has seen 250 000 information resources disseminated, 5 000 managers participate in line manager training, over 400 emergency services staff register to be ‘Blue Light Champions’, and 54 blue light employers and 9 national associations sign the Blue Light Time to Change pledge—a commitment to raising awareness of mental health, tackling stigma and helping enable staff and volunteers to talk more openly about their mental health at work. Currently, all ambulance services in England except East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust have signed the pledge.

Funds have been allocated for Mind to continue to deliver the programme on a smaller scale throughout 2016/17.

Esmail Rifai, 50, is a clinical safety officer for North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust, who recently returned to work following a long period of work-related anxiety and depression. He lost a work colleague and friend to suicide.

‘My colleague taking his own life had a devastating effect on me at a time when I was coming to terms with my own mental health,’ he says.

‘At work I often take on more than time permits, which inevitably takes its toll and ultimately ends up with my own mental health deteriorating.’

Rifai is a ‘Blue Light Champion’ and has found the experience helpful in coming to terms with his own mental health issues. ‘Being involved with the Blue Light Programme has also given me some solace,’ he says. ‘Knowing that I’m helping others in itself makes me feel good—a sense of achievement.’

Exposure to shocking events

Project M (3)Dan Farnworth is an EMT for North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust who has also suffered from PTSD.

‘My mental health issues started about a year and a half ago,’ he says. ‘We went to a job that involved child abuse. It was awful. We did everything that we could, but unfortunately we weren’t able to save the child.’

While Farnworth understandably felt low after the job, it wasn’t until 24 hours later that he found himself unable to shake the image of the child from his head.

‘At work I wasn’t acting like myself anymore; I wasn’t socialising as much with colleagues, and generally not interacting with people.’

In addition to his work, he found the event had begun to affect his life at home as well.

‘It made me a grumpier person, and my patience was a lot shorter. It even started to affect my sleep, and I found myself having nightmares about it.

‘I’d often find myself just sat there, not really doing anything but thinking about the job, and thinking about whether there was anything else I could have done.’

The nature of work undertaken by ambulance services means there are times when paramedics find themselves turning up at the scene of a shocking or upsetting event.

‘As a paramedic there is no way to avoid seeing sights that are difficult,’ says Myers. ‘It may be one shocking call, or it may be a build up over time, but I believe we are all affected in some way by the things we see, by the emotion we experience but are forced to contain while dealing with our job. Showing any sign of emotion is still perceived as a weakness rather than an outlet, and this is one of the things that needs to change.’

Kevin Sibley is an EMT for East of England Ambulance Service NHS Trust who served 8 years within the army. A year of that time was spent in Northern Ireland where he witnessed a number of harrowing events. He remains unconvinced at the prevalence of mental health problems suffered by ambulance staff.

‘I have known people who have left the ambo service and have come back 6 months later after querying suffering mental problems,’ he says.

‘Unfortunately I think lots of people use the mental health card in the ambo. PTSD in the military is not an excuse, it’s because your mates who will die for you are killed in a horrible situation. Unfortunately I can’t compare this to the ambo service as we join to help people in road traffic collisions (RTC) etc. You [can] walk in to a hanging, RTC or decapitation.’

Sibley is of the opinion that some paramedics are quick to associate distressing events with potential mental health issues, with some reaching for the latest buzz word to explain how they are feeling.

‘I don’t mean to belittle people with issues but we were unwell,’ he says. ‘Not dealing with it, then stress, then depression. People looked for a new thing, a new name, and grabbed PTSD.’

Support for ambulance staff

Currently, ambulance services have internal debriefing support services, and through occupational health staff have access to professional counselling services. Additionally, support is provided to ambulance service staff and their families by The Ambulance Services Charity (TASC).

‘Most people will normally feel some levels of stress throughout their day—the fight or flight model enables us to cope with difficult situations,’ says Jean Hayes, director of support services for TASC. ‘However, prolonged levels of stress can sometimes have a negative impact on health and wellbeing. For some ambulance personnel, constant and increasing exposure to difficult situations may result in poor health.’

Hayes explains how since its launch in March 2015, TASC have been approached by a number of ambulance personnel suffering from low mood, stress-related illness and undiagnosed PTSD, many of whom remain in work providing a dedicated service to the general public.

As a result, the charity is currently developing a programme of support for individuals, working with a leading psychologist, which will enable ambulance personnel to recognise their own symptoms and develop strategies to help manage poor mental health.

‘Subject to funding, TASC aim to roll out this programme of work nationwide,’ says Hayes. ‘Along with other support services, TASC are here to support those working in the UK ambulance services, whenever they are facing unexpected difficulties, crisis or are in need.’

The College of Paramedics has been working closely with Mind over recent months, and is an active participant in the blue light mental health agenda nationally, along with the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE).

According to David Davis, paramedic and fellow of the College of Paramedics, the College has recognised the importance of the mental health and wellbeing of paramedics and other ambulance and pre-hospital professionals for a number of years. These include significant concerns around what many feel is an unachievable retirement age of 68, significant changes in working practices and increased workloads resulting in increased isolation of practitioners, as well as concerns over violence and aggression towards emergency services workers.

‘The research undertaken by Mind, as part of the Blue Light Programme, has reinforced anecdote with real meaningful data about the level of problems, and importantly revealed that many frontline staff were not keen on being open about mental ill health and stress for fear of either embarrassment or adverse consequences from employers or otherwise,’ says Davis.

‘The most recent data was very worrying indeed,’ he adds. ‘Particularly that 35% of those ambulance staff completing the online survey had contemplated taking their own lives.

‘There is increasing awareness of the risk of suicide among paramedics and other emergency ambulance service personnel that simply cannot be ignored, and the recent data from the Mind survey tells us that actions must be taken now to support and protect this important group of public servants.’

Davis, who is spokesperson on mental health for the College of Paramedics, goes on to highlight that the recent College of Paramedics conference revealed a clearly expressed mandate to make mental health of the membership a priority and to support the Mind programme.

‘A single suicide of one of the brave men or women who I am proud to call my colleagues is a tragedy too many,’ says Davis. ‘We must work together to tackle the issues of mental ill health, whether they be stress, depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.’

The AACE is one of the national associations signed up to the Mind Blue Light Time to Change pledge and were fully engaged in the Blue Light Programme throughout its initial duration. According to Anna Parry, national programme manager for the AACE, the association is continuing to benefit from the work undertaken by Mind, with the Time to Change Programme Manager contributing to ongoing work the AACE is overseeing to promote and enhance the mental health and wellbeing of staff. At the national level, the AACE is collating information and data in this area to better understand what more can be done to support ambulance service staff.

‘The sector feels that there is more that could and should be done to fight mental health stigma and discrimination and to enhance the supports that are available to staff in this area,’ says Parry.

‘The mental health and wellbeing of staff subsequently features in the AACEs 2016–17 strategic priorities; these are identified and progressed by ambulance services nationally,’ she adds.

Removing the stigma

Project M (4)Farnworth believes that with ever increasing demand on the ambulance service, there is not as much opportunity for discussion and reflection between jobs anymore.

‘When staff attend a particularly traumatic job, they are offered some “time out” but many staff don’t take this up when they know there are patients out there waiting for our help,’ he says.

‘As much as we look out for each other, there is still a bravado or “stigma” attached with this job; we all like to think we are infallible. We are there to support the public in [their] time of need, but we tend to not ask for help ourselves.’

‘Talking to my peers has also been a massive help,’ says Farnworth. ‘It helps me realise that what I’m going through is normal, and that many people experience things like this from time to time.’

This sentiment is something that Myers finds he can also relate to:

‘The first piece of advice I would give would be “do not be ashamed”. It took me a long time to admit both to myself and to those around me that there was something wrong. There is still a stigma attached to mental health issues, particularly PTSD, in a field where it is expected that you just get on with the job, that prevents people from seeking help. A first-line defence must be to talk, be it to a colleague, a friend or a relative, or, if the need arises, to a medical professional who will be able to give guidance with reference to the right course of treatment if required.

‘Don’t be afraid to seek help. Because the subject up until very recently was taboo, it was not well known how and where to seek help, but I believe that it’s slowly improving.’

Rifai also believes that stigma surrounding mental health should be removed: ‘There is no shame or stigma attached to experiencing mental health problems, it’s just the same as breaking a bone, except no one can see that you are suffering. We are not super humans and we are just as prone to illness as anyone else, if not more.’

Blue Light Walk

To help raise awareness of mental health problems within the blue light community and get emergency service personnel talking, Farnworth has teamed up with Richard Morton, paramedic; Philip Baggaley, senior paramedic; and Gill Despard, paramedic lecturer practitioner, to walk from Scarborough RNLI to Blackpool RNLI stopping at fire, police and ambulance stations along the way. They will be raising money for the Blue Light Programme.

The walk will take place from 26–30 September and they are inviting all emergency services, as well as the general public, to join them on the ‘last leg’ from Broughton ambulance station to Blackpool RNLI. Additionally, they are putting on a Blue Light Walk Charity Ball to celebrate the success of the walk on 1 October. If you would like to support their cause or join them then visit http://www.bluelightwalk.com.

Has your mental health been affected as a result of working for the ambulance service? If so, Journal of Paramedic Practice would like to hear from you. Email jpp@markallengroup.com

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 6 May 2016.

UNISON survey reveals stress among ambulance staff

Nine in ten ambulance workers are suffering from stress, according to a recent survey carried out by trade union UNISON.

The online survey, which was completed by 2,977 ambulance workers, revealed that causes of stress among staff were long hours (71%), staff shortages (65%), mental demands of the job (45%), target culture (52%), physical demand of the job (40%), bullying and harassment (25%), and abuse of violence at work (15%).

The survey also revealed that 74% suffer from sleep problems, 72% felt irritable as a result and experience mood swings, and 56% suffer from anxiety.

Additionally, 38% said they had to take time off sick because of work-related stress and 26% admitted they were close doing so.

UNISON, which represents 20,000 ambulance workers in the UK, have raised concerns that employers are not fulfilling their duty of care, as more than half of respondents said they were unaware of any steps being taken by their employer to remove or reduce stress.

UNISON head of health, Christina McAnea, said:

‘Working in emergency services is stressful but the pressure on ambulance staff is reaching dangerously high levels.

‘It is unacceptable that the current system doesn’t allow for proper breaks between shifts,’ she added. ‘Workers have told us they often work 14-hour shifts without a decent break.’

Emma Mamo, head of workplace wellbeing at mental health charity Mind, said:

‘This data reveals the worrying scale of stress among ambulance workers, and echoes our findings which revealed the extent of stress and mental health problems across all emergency services personnel.’

Last month, Mind launched its Blue Light Programme, a major new programme of mental health support for emergency services staff after being awarded £4 million of funding from the Cabinet Office.

The programme aims to focus on tackling stigma and discrimination, embedding workplace wellbeing, building resilience, and providing information and support.

Taken from Journal of Paramedic Practice, published 30 April 2015.

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.