'Help needed to combat paramedic stress' union claims

South Central Ambulance
Image caption Ambulance crews are suffering abuse, missing meal breaks and finishing shifts late, according to the union Unison

Not enough is being done to prevent stress suffered by paramedics at South Central Ambulance Service (SCAS), a union representative has said.

Paramedic Gavin Bashford, of Unison, said the job had become more stressful because of a lack of resources.

Trust figures show the number of stress-related sick days taken by paramedics increased by more than 50% in two years.

SCAS said the mental wellbeing of its staff was a priority.

'Abuse from patients'

Mr Bashford said it was commonplace in Oxfordshire to have four ambulances on duty overnight when there should be 10.

He said: "Those four crews are... going to be very stressed, running from job to job, not having meal breaks and often finishing two or three hours late as well.

"One of the problems is patients and relatives giving us abuse because we are often turning up two hours after they make the emergency call.

"A lot of paramedics are choosing to work part-time as a way of dealing with the stress."

'Counselling available'

Figures released following a Freedom of Information request show SCAS's 771 paramedics were off with stress for a total of 2,962 days in the first 11 months of 2015, compared with 2,542 days in the whole of 2014 and 1,939 days in 2013, when there were 744 paramedics employed by the trust.

Richard McDonald, Oxfordshire area manager at SCAS, said: "Our planned rota for Oxfordshire is to provide a minimum of 10 transporting ambulances and three rapid response vehicles overnight.

"Overnight periods of lower resource cover is when we have our lowest level of demand. Where our SCAS resourcing does not meet our required minimum levels, private provider ambulance cover is used to support the area."

Melanie Saunders, SCAS human resources director, said counselling and support services were available to staff and SCAS was the first UK ambulance trust to appoint a "mental health lead" to "support good mental health across the organisation".

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