LONG hours, staff shortages and the mental demands of the job are placing an enormous burden on ambulance workers in the Northwest, according to a new UNISON survey.

The survey was published today, Friday, ahead of the union’s annual health conference in Liverpool next week.

The survey – of 153 ambulance workers in the Northwest – reveals that three-quarters are suffering with sleep problems as a result of stress, more than three in five said they felt irritable and experienced mood swings, and almost three in five suffered with anxiety.

More than a third said they had to take time off sick because of work-related stress and more than a quarter admitted they were close to doing so.

Some paramedics described being tearful, suffering with migraines, post traumatic stress disorder and feeling exhausted.

As a result of pressures on the service and workers, more than 81% admitted they had thought about leaving the job.

But North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust says the survey - which had a response rate of 14.8% - represents a “very small proportion” of its frontline staff and amounts to around 3% of its 5,100 work force.

UNISON - which represents 20,000 ambulance workers in the UK - is concerned that employers are not fulfilling their duty of care but NWAS said overall job satisfaction has been improved with many staff recommending the trust as a place to work.

Health and well-being in NHS workplaces will be a hot topic at UNISON’s annual health conference which takes place at the BT Conference Centre in Liverpool, from Monday April 13 to Wednesday April 15.

Amy Barringer, UNISON’s Northwest head of health, 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. Workers have told us they often work 14-hour shifts without a decent break.

“Higher call out rates and lengthy waits outside A&E departments are adding to the problem. It is clear that the pressure caused by government funding cuts is having a huge impact on staff and on patient safety.

“But it is vital that patients use the service responsibly – for example only calling 999 for an ambulance when there is a real emergency.”

Ms Barringer added: "The pressure on workers is mounting and the apparent lack of support from their employers means they are suffering in silence.

“Year after year the levels of stress remain unacceptably high and yet neither employers nor the government have done anything to address this."

Lisa Ward, NWAS deputy director for organisational development, said: “Traditionally ambulance services in England have always had a higher sickness level then other NHS trusts, particularly with cases of stress, due to the nature of the work frontline staff do and NWAS is no different.

“Cases of stress do fall in line with a rise in activity and last year, the NWAS saw an increase in demand of six per cent compared to the previous year. Despite this, the percentage of staff working additional hours has decreased.

“Working shifts and dealing with some very traumatic scenes does make the role of our frontline ambulance crews a challenging one.”

NWAS has completed an internal health and wellbeing survey of all staff to gain a better understanding of staff absence, with a number of recommendations now being taken forward.

Ms ward added: “The Trust has robust policies designed to assist in the health and well being of staff and these are created in conjunction with our union colleagues for example, NWAS has flexible working, career break and meal break policies and in accordance with Working Time Directives, staff do receive regular breaks.

“We also provide access to Occupational Health, which includes a counselling service available to all employees regardless of whether their need is work related.”