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10 April 2015, 05:00
More than nine out of 10 ambulance workers say the demands of the job are causing them to suffer from stress, according to a survey.
Long hours and staff shortages are stretching paramedics to the limit, the research by Unison said.
Its poll of nearly 3,000 workers found that three quarters (74%) are suffering from sleep problems, 72% said they feel irritable as a result and experienced mood swings, and more than half (56%) are gripped with anxiety.
Nearly two in five (38%) said they have had to take time off sick because of work-related stress and a quarter (26%) admitted they were close to doing so.
As a result of pressures on the service and workers, four out of five (82%) said they have thought about leaving the job.
One paramedic told Heart, "You don't get to depressurise after jobs, so you can go and see something horrendous and then you're straight on to the next job without even a real chance for a cup of tea."
He said he believes workers are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder "across the board". He said colleagues are "constantly off with stress because they've got to a point where they can't offload the amount of things that they've seen, the amount of stress that they're under, the amount of pressure they're under."
And he believes it's a contributing factor in people taking their own lives. He said: "I don't think that one year's gone past (in the last seven years) where I've not been to a funeral for someone in my role, who I know, who has killed themselves.
"I think that they are under a huge amount of pressure and they don't really know what to do."
It's something that, while he's never had suicidal thoughts, he understands. "I've had counselling on multiple occasions. That's been from dealing with traumatic jobs. I've been in quite a dark place in terms of depression. Fortunately, I've been one of the people who's come forward and put their hand up and put their head up and said 'I'm struggling' and got help.
"I've never had to be medicated, but being able to go and speak to someone on a regular basis was part of the process. I know that there's other paramedics who can't do that."
The union said it is concerned that employers are not fulfilling their duty of care as more than half of the respondents said they were unaware of any steps being taken by their employer to remove or reduce stress.
One paramedic spoke of how hospital closures meant they now have to drive hundreds of miles every day.
"Too few ambulances, missed meals and 16 or 17 hour shifts would stress anyone,'' he said.
Others described being tearful, suffering with migraines, post-traumatic stress disorder and exhaustion.
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. 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.
"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. It is no wonder areas such as London are now having to go to the other side of the world to recruit paramedics.''
If you're affected by the issues in this article, or have experienced suicidal feelings, you can contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or email email@example.com.