Welfare of ambulance staff at risk as services face ‘unsustainable’ demand     

Ambulance trusts must provide urgent support

UNISON has written to ambulance service chiefs calling for urgent support for staff as services face unprecedented 999 call volumes and unsustainable demand from the public.

The letter to Daren Mochrie, chair of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), says employers must act ​now to​limit the impact on the wellbeing and morale of staff, especially those working in control rooms.

In the letter, UNISON says ‘missed meal breaks, late finishes, queuing outside hospitals and increasing levels of sickness absence have become widespread’.

The letter continues: “This is all having a terrible impact on morale, as well on the health and wellbeing of ambulance staff.

“Ambulance ​staff have been at the forefront of the Covid response, working under levels of pressure never seen before.”

Major issues that are being reported to UNISON by staff across the country include:

  • An ambulance service employee having to attend jobs for an extra five hours and travel over 100 miles after ​their shift officially ended.
  • ​Timewasting 999 calls from the public including requests for crews to attend a property where someone couldn’t reach their TV remote control and another where the person was too hot because they couldn’t turn their heating off.
  • Staff at ambulance stations crying at the end of their shifts because of stress, low morale and lack of breaks. Some are spending hours queuing in A&E department corridors waiting to hand over patients on stretchers to hospital staff.
  • Significant delays in responding to patients because of the overwhelming number of emergency calls. One service had 400 calls outstanding and had worried people ringing back asking when ​an ambulance would arrive.
  • Emergency call handlers starting shifts with ambulances needed at over 100 incidents. In some cases, there’s been a 24-hour wait for ambulances to arrive.
  • Ambulance services ​regularly reaching the highest possible alert level (REAP 4) because they’re under such extreme pressure.

​UNISON is urging employers to ensure employees get their legal entitlement of rest periods, minimise missed meal breaks and shift overruns, and check staff are not working excessive hours because of overtime or extra shifts.

The letter to the AACE also says better decision-making is needed so patients ​are placed in the correct order ​of priority to avoid unnecessary callouts.

​Last month, the NHS announced an extra £55m would be invested in ambulance trusts in England to ​recruit additional 999 call handlers, ambulance crews, and clinicians to work in control rooms.

However, the union says in the letter that the current level of demand was ‘foreseeable’, and the government ​must provide more support ​to address ‘the long-term capacity issues in the ambulance service’.

UNISON deputy head of health Helga Pile said: “Ambulance workers have faced exceptional pressures over the past 17 months.

“It’s not surprising many have reached burn out. They cannot be left to just carry on doing excessive hours without proper breaks and rest ​between shifts.

“Employers must act swiftly by doing all they can to limit the unprecedented pressures on staff. Additional welfare support is needed, and ​the government should make ​this a top priority​.”

Notes to editors:  
– To request a copy of the letter, please contact the press office.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

Media contacts:  
Liz Chinchen M: 07778 158175 E: press@unison.co.uk
​Fatima Ayad M: 07508 080383 E: f.ayad@unison.co.uk