“A lot of new staff are coming in, lasting three or four years, getting disheartened and looking for something else… mental health is a very large concern.”
By Hajera Blagg, Unite Live
Ahead of a Unite strike ballot of ambulance workers closing on Wednesday (November 30), the Mirror spoke to several Unite paramedics who’re at the end of their tether.
A perfect storm of huge and rising patient handover wait times, high levels of staff sickness mostly due to stress — with many leaving the service altogether for better paid jobs elsewhere – and rock-bottom pay has angered thousands of paramedics who are fighting to defend the health service.
About 3,000 Unite members, which includes paramedics and call handlers, are being balloted for strike action in England after they were offered a meagre 4 per cent Agenda for Change pay rise, at a time when RPI inflation has exceeded 12 per cent.
Among the Unite members the Mirror spoke to was George Dusher, 27, who despite qualifying recently after completing a degree and seven years on the job, now plans to leave the ambulance service for another role in the NHS.
“There’s no work-life balance, you’re continuously finishing two or three hours late which has a knock-on effect with your sleep,” George told the Mirror.
“And the job’s more upsetting than it was. It’s got to the point where you’re going to people the same age as your gran who have been lying on the floor for 12 hours waiting for an ambulance.
“The emergencies are stacking and stacking,” he added. “We are seeing a lot of near-misses, and as winter pressures mount I think we’ll see more deaths because of the waiting times.”
George described the incredibly stressful situations he and his colleagues find themselves in because of the longer and longer times they have to spend with patients who are waiting to be handed over to hospitals.
“Waiting is especially hard with dementia patients,” he said. “They don’t know where they are and become very distressed. After what I see during a shift, I’m struggling to sleep. I’m seeing that in colleagues too. We’re seeing high staff sickness, particularly stress.”
George, who is on a band 3 pay grade with more than two years’ experience, earns between £21,777 and £23,177. He described to the Mirror the stress facing colleagues, especially those who are new to the service.
“It’s worrying,” he said. “You don’t want a paramedic who’s only done two years turning up to deal with cardiac arrests.”
The Mirror also spoke to Unite rep and paramedic Kelvin Hurd, who UniteLive interviewed earlier this month.
Speaking to the Mirror, Kelvin, who’s worked in the ambulance service for over 25 years, said, “There’s usually a stack of emergencies waiting when we start. It’s soul-destroying. The system is broken.”
Meanwhile, Unite member and ambulance technician William Anderson told the Mirror that he fears younger staff especially are struggling with stress, which will own worsen an already acute recruitment and retention crisis.
“A lot of new staff are coming in, lasting three or four years, getting disheartened and looking for something else,” he said. “Mental health is a very large concern. The younger generation are not coping with the stress. Some crews don’t get rest periods at all.”
And if you are a Unite member working in the ambulance service, you can find out more about voting in Unite’s strike ballot here. Remember the ballot closes for ambulance workers in England on November 30. You can also find out about other upcoming Unite NHS strike ballots on the same page.