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Survey shows 86% of ambulance workers report working 12 hours or more

A survey of Scottish Ambulance Service staff found 86% had been on shift for 12 hours or more (Dominic Lipinski/PA)
A survey of Scottish Ambulance Service staff found 86% had been on shift for 12 hours or more (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Almost nine out of 10 ambulance workers have reported being on shift for 12 hours or more  – with nearly a third saying their longest shift lasted between 15 and 20 hours.

A survey of Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) staff also revealed 89% felt “fatigued” at work, up from  86.4% last November.

Almost four-fifths (79%) are considering quitting the service, according to the research, which further suggested 87% of staff do not feel valued by the SAS, while 91% do not feel valued by the Scottish Government.

Almost 350 Scottish ambulance staff took part in the survey this month for the trade union Unite.

It found a big drop in the number of staff who were involved in cases which took more than 20 hours from call to completion – with this down from 16.3% of staff in the last survey in November 2021 to 1.1% in June this year.

The number of workers involved in cases of between 15-20 hours also fell from  from 11.7% to 3.4% over the same period.

However, Unite fears that progress on this is linked to an increase in staff working longer shifts – with 86% saying the longest stretch they had worked was more than 12 hours, a rise from 76% in November.

According to the latest survey, more than half (52%) of staff reported having a shift that lasted 12 to 15 hours, while nearly a third (31%) said they had been on shift for between 15 and 20 hours, with 3% reporting working for 20 hours or more in a single shift.

Of those who took part in the survey, 80% described their team as being “understaffed”, while 69% said they did not get necessary breaks during shifts.

It comes despite ambulance service bosses announcing in September 2021 that almost 300 new workers were being recruited, thanks to £20 million of Scottish Government cash.

Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said its latest survey showed “the situation facing Scottish Ambulance Service workers remains extremely depressing”.

He added: “In a number of vital areas such as the longest shift worked, staff considering leaving, understaffing, staff being abused and feeling undervalued, the situation is deteriorating.

“Hundreds of workers are telling us that despite the millions of extra investment into the service heralded by the Scottish Government, it’s making minimal impact on the front line.

“The stark reality is that a majority of our members have been involved in call to completion cases between six and 12 hours on the Scottish Government’s watch over the last seven months, which in a modern day society is both unforgiveable and inexcusable.”

Unite is campaigning to have the Scottish Ambulance Service staff ‘treated on an equal basis’ with police and firefighters (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Jamie McNamee, Unite Scottish Ambulance Service convener, said: “Despite the Scottish Government rolling out announcements on extra resources being allocated to the SAS and that the situation is improving, in the real world, which is where our members live and work, the findings reveal the situation is just as bad if not worse in some areas.

“Seven months ago we said the workers at the SAS were making their own 999 call to the Scottish Government. Ministers may have lifted the phone, but all we are getting is talk and no action which is making a tangible impact at the frontline.

“It’s also shameful that ambulance service workers are being treated differently to other emergency services, which is why Unite is launching our campaign to have the SAS workforce treated on an equal basis with the police, fire and rescue services.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “We completely understand the pressure our staff have been working under over the last two years with the pandemic – it’s been extremely tough and they continue to do a fantastic job.

“Our latest statistics show our median response time for our most serious calls across the country is currently seven minutes 12 seconds, and 30-day survival rates for our most seriously ill patients are also at their highest-ever level.

“We are continuing to provide support to our staff and are accelerating recruitment of new staff, building on record recruitment of 540 frontline staff last financial year.

“We also have escalation arrangements in place with hospitals which experience delays in transfer of patients to their care. We can’t thank our staff enough for the work they are doing.”

Humza Yousaf
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The pandemic has been the biggest challenge the NHS has faced in its 73-year existence and has heaped pressure on our ambulance service and wider NHS.

“Our ambulance staff have been at the heart of the response to Covid-19 and our recovery and we all owe them a huge debt of gratitude for their courage, commitment and professionalism.

“Investment in support for staff and their wellbeing is at the heart of our £1 billion NHS recovery plan.

“We are determined to ensure the Scottish Ambulance Service has the resources and skilled staff in place to continue to deliver a high-quality service, and patient safety remains our number one priority.

“Our increased investment has seen record recruitment of 540 additional ambulance staff in 2021-22 with further recruitment of 574 staff planned for this year, ensuring the service is working as efficiently as possible.

“We launched The Respect Campaign in 2021 to help reduce levels of violent and abusive behaviour experienced by health and social care workers and have also taken action to extend the Emergency Worker(s) Act (Scotland) 2005.”

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