Ambulance staff mental health absences are up by 300 per cent.

By Bill Heaney

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton has today revealed new figures showing the traumatic impact of the waiting times crisis on ambulance staff.

A Freedom of Information request received by Scottish Liberal Democrats revealed soaring mental health-related absences within the Scottish Ambulance Service.

During First Minister’s Questions, Mr Cole-Hamilton said:  “There is a muscle memory to these exchanges. Week after week opposition members ask the government about the crisis in emergency care and week after week the government respond by blaming the pandemic.

John Swinney, Anas Sarwar and Alex Cole-Hamilton.

“The Deputy First Minister [John Swinney SNP] has doubled down on that today by accusing Anas Sarwar of being in denial, and yet the former Chief Executive of NHS Scotland said this crisis has been years in the making but the pandemic has only hastened the date.

“I want the Deputy First Minister to put himself in the shoes of our hardworking emergency care staff.

“The call handlers answering repeated calls asking again and again when the ambulance will come.

“Paramedics who are attending doors knowing that behind that door is somebody who has been waiting in pain for hours on end. That must be absolutely traumatic.

“I have here a freedom of information request. We learned the number of ambulance staff hours lost to mental ill health is now up 300% since 2017. That’s 40,000 hours between July and September alone.

“One paramedic told the Daily Record ‘We feel as if we are failing the public even though it’s not our fault’.

“Presiding Officer, it is not their fault, so can I ask the Deputy First Minister to stop grasping at straws, to stop blaming the pandemic and accept that his government is letting these vital staff down.”

  • The Scottish Ambulance Service FOI response shows paramedics, technicians, care assistants and A&E team leaders working in A&E roles, reporting sickness absence with a reason of anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illness.

The response can be found in full here.

Meanwhile, the recruitment of Scottish Ambulance staff is being stepped up to help respond to the significantly high pressure on the NHS.

As many as 179 new staff are expected to join the service between October and November, with a further 177 to be recruited by March 2022.

The recruits are set to include front line paramedics, technicians and ambulance care assistants.

A total of 210 staff have already been recruited and trained over the last six months, bringing the total for this year to nearly 600 frontline staff.

It comes amidst warnings over the challenges faced by health services over winter, with a potential rise in Covid cases, as well as a seasonal rise in demand.

In September, more than 200 army personnel were deployed in Scotland to provide assistance by driving ambulances and operating mobile coronavirus testing units.

Pauline Howie, chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service.

Pauline Howie, chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service, said that the new staff will be a “real boost”.

“We know that this is one of the most significant periods of pressure on the NHS since its inception. All parts of the system are under pressure and it’s been tough out there for our staff and patients,” she said.

“Everyone is working so hard to help patients and our staff continue to do a fantastic job.

“We know that there will be little let up in those pressures over the next few months so we are accelerating our efforts to increase capacity and do everything we can to support staff.

“These new staff coming in will be a real boost. We continue to prioritise those patients who are most critically ill and staff continue to go above and beyond to save lives with survival figures for patients in our most acute response category at their highest ever level.”

Howie said that a range of actions are being taken each day in order to reduce ambulance waiting times.

Praising the work of staff, she said: “It is a real testament to their ability to deliver despite the wider pressures upon the system.

“For those lower acuity patients who do have to wait longer for an ambulance, we are trying to get to you as quickly as we can and I’d once again thank you for your patience.

“We are taking a range of actions each and every day to reduce waits. We are working closely with NHS boards to address the hospital turnaround times to get our crews back on the road to help patients, we are boosting staffing numbers through accelerated recruitment.

“We are receiving great assistance from partners, using advanced paramedics, community first responders and other key staff to get to all categories of patients for example.

“And our National Command and Control Centre has been stood up to monitor waiting times and take immediate actions to identify and free up resources to attend patients waiting longer than we would like.“

She added: “As we move into the winter period, we would ask the public to continue to use 999 wisely. If people have serious health concerns or symptoms, call 999.

“If your condition isn’t life-threatening, you should call NHS24 on 111.”


Leave a Reply