More Welsh Ambulance Service staff off with stress
A growing number of ambulance service staff are going off sick due to stress, BBC Wales has learned.
Their sickness rate of 7.53% is the highest in the Welsh NHS and almost double that of the police which is 4%.
Since May the service has only once hit the 65% target for reaching life-threatening calls in eight minutes.
Bosses admit that ambulance queues outside A&E could get worse with hospital reorganisation unless more staff are hired.
Sickness level figures - calculated as the number of hours lost - were obtained following a Freedom of Information request by the BBC.
In 2011-12 there were 9,667 hours lost because of stress, but in 2012-13 that figure had risen to 11,255 hours.
The figures also show there were almost three times as many staff being signed off for stress as for a common cold or flu.
A paramedic from the ambulance service's central and west region, using the name Tina to protect her identity, said: "I think it was constant pressure of trying to hit targets and be somewhere else when you're already dealing with one patient.
"You're not getting time to clear your head between one patient and another, you just haven't got the time to think, you're just constantly barraged from one job to the next.
"I was getting home and being useless to man nor beast - I could not function as a human being, I was just a shell."
Tina also said that waiting outside hospitals to deliver patients was a "frustration".
She added: "You know you can be out there doing something helping people, and all you're doing is basically babysitting patients for the hospital.
"They don't want the patients through their doors because it counts on their figures. Yet we can't leave them.
"We watch patients deteriorating in the back of our ambulances and we still can't get them in."
Unions say the problem is so bad that staff are now putting in personal injury claims for compensation.
"We've had a number of cases over the last 12 months," said Darron Dupre from Unison.
"There's certainly an increase in paramedics and technicians coming to us to ask what legal recourse they can have for the way they feel."
The Welsh NHS is planning to reduce the number of hospitals and centralise services because of concerns that services are spread too thinly. However, it could mean ambulances face more time on the roads.
With changes ahead, managers accept they will need more resources.
Judith Hardisty from the Welsh Ambulance Service said: "We will need to provide more training and upskill some of our staff so that they can provide the care to patients that they are moving over longer periods of time.
"We have identified that if those services are moving we will need more staff to support those changes."