UNISON’s East of England ambulance branch is campaigning for safer – and less stressful – working conditions for crews with a petition and a new film showing the scale of the problem in the trust.
The campaign to put staff welfare at the heart of decision making in the trust also has a dedicated website at putbacktheheart.com.
The moves follow on from a national UNISON survey of ambulance staff, which found that stress is inflicting a major toll on crews.
A branch survey in the East of England Amulance Trust showed that the main cause of stress is late finishes.
In the film, staff talk about falling asleep while driving, worrying about making drug errors and the feari that they will have a road accident due to being stressed and exhausted.
Frontline staff routinely work 12-hour shifts, with only a 30-minute meal break.
But actual shifts can last up to 15 hours or more because staff have to answer calls right up until the last second of their shift, regardless of where they are in the region.
Crews cover hundreds of miles, and can be far from their base station at the end of their shift.
“Working for 12 hours is very demanding physically and often emotionally,” says branch secretary Fraser Stevenson.
“It is only right that, at the end of their shift, staff can go home to rest.
“All the staff interviewed wanted to do their best for their patients, and the recent patient satisfaction surveys show this – with 100% patient satisfaction.
“We interviewed frontline staff across the east of England and the experiences they shared were very upsetting,” added Ms Stevenson.
“Many felt constantly exhausted from the relentless pressure over late finishes. Some broke down in tears and spoke about leaving the profession.”
UNISON is asking the trust to take practical steps to address the issue including:
- a fatigue clause that allows frontline staff to safely identify when they need to be returned to their base station towards the end of their shift, without fear of reprisals or disciplinary action;
- the last 30 minutes of a shift to only include the immediately life threatening or Red 1 calls;
- booking crews out of service when their travel time to base means they will already incur a late finish;
- removing less critical Green 1 calls in the last 60 minutes of a shift;
- allowing crews to swap over with oncoming crews, to prevent late finishes for non time-critical patients, which already happens in some areas of the trust.