UNISON yesterday warned the ambulance service is on the verge of breaking down and that the consequences for patient safety are dramatic.
Tight targets, long hours and the physical demands of the job place an enormous burden on overworked ambulance workers according to a Unison survey released yesterday.
The survey of 1,332 NHS ambulance workers reveals a worryingly high level of stress, with one in five saying they have a ‘terrible’ work-life balance. A third of respondents (34%) say they have taken time off due to work related stress in the past year.
Some say they suffer in silence as they are too scared of the repercussions while others are looking to leave the profession. A large proportion of respondents added that management had taken no step to remove or reduce stress, despite having a legal duty to do so.
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. Millions of patients rely on ambulance staff at some of the most traumatic times in their lives, for their high quality level of care, expertise and good will.’
She continued: ‘It is clear the pressure caused by funding cuts is having an impact on patient safety. Higher call out rates and lengthy waits outside A&E add to the problem.’ She added: ‘Ambulance staff who join the service will be expected to work until they’re 68. And this won’t be sustainable long term if things don’t change.’
Earlier in the week, it emerged that in London, because of the savage NHS cuts, up to 4,000 emergency calls a month now receive a response from a private ambulance, after an 11-fold increase in spending on such firms from £829,000 in 2010 to £9.2 million in 2013.
In the South East Coast area, spending rose from £1.5 million to £9.5 million, while in East of England, it increased from £4.5 million to £11.2 million. There are dozens of private firms in Britain, but until recently most have been used by the health service as ‘patient transport’ transferring non-emergency patients to and from hospital.
Five years ago, one quarter of ambulance trusts used private and voluntary agencies for 999 calls. Now all ambulance services are using such firms. Patients’ groups state that they are ‘deeply concerned’by the trend, and that some of the firms did not adequately train staff, while others had a poor record for hygiene and safety.
Cliff Mann, President of the College of Emergency Medicine commented: ‘When trusts began using private firms for 999 calls they said it was only as a “last resort” but the scale here is nothing is like that – it’s deeply concerning.
‘It is incredibly wasteful – because trusts have to pay a premium to use these agencies – and it’s also potentially dangerous because they aren’t part of the normal system of monitoring so it’s harder to know how safe they are.’
Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association said she was ‘shocked’ by the scale of the spending, and feared that the use of private firms was putting patient safety at risk.