Mental health absences of ambulance workers 'near 170,000 staff hours'

Workers are 'sacrificing their own health' as figures revealed staff absences have soared in the past year.

Mental health absences of Scottish ambulance workers near 170,000 staff hours, FOI reveals iStock

Emergency service workers are “sacrificing their own health” as new figures reveal almost 170,000 staff hours were lost to mental health absences.

Figures obtained through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests revealed ambulance staff absences totalled 169,574 hours between July 2021 and June 2022.

The number soared 68,559 hours in the previous year, between July 2020 and June 2021, where the number of mental health absence hours totalled 101,015.   

An employee is included in the Scottish Ambulance Service data if they have an absence due to anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illness.

Figures can include paramedics, technicians, care assistants and accident and emergency team leaders.

It comes as Public Health Scotland (PHS) data revealed the number of patients waiting more than eight hours in emergency departments reached record levels, with 3,553 waiting that timeframe in the week up to October 9.

The FOI request, submitted by the Scottish Liberal Democrats, coincides with Emergency Services Day on October 19.

Party leader and health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP has urged the Scottish Government to support emergency service workers in light of the figures.

He said: “The figures that I am unveiling today show that in many cases they have sacrificed their own health to keep others safe.

“Medics and call handlers know that they do a high-pressure job but that doesn’t mean the government should expect them to constantly go faster and faster. That’s a recipe for a breakdown.

“Soaring staff absences show the heavy toll that this sort of work can take, but the government isn’t doing enough to ease the pressures. As has become typical of their approach to emergency care, the SNP are sticking their fingers in their ears and hoping the problem simply goes away.  

“Scottish Liberal Democrats would introduce a burnout prevention strategy to help ease the pressure on staff and introduce an NHS staff assembly to give them an opportunity to shape the future of the service. Sadly, these are both policies which have been voted down or rejected by the SNP/Green coalition. This needs to stop.  

“Working for our emergency services requires huge resilience; it’s about time our government acknowledged that by giving staff the support they need.”    

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “Our staff work incredibly hard, helping patients and saving lives every day.

“We understand the pressures they face and during the pandemic we’ve increased the range of wellbeing support available to our staff, are providing vital additional support to them and have launched a new wellbeing strategy.

“In addition, we are continuing to recruit, train and develop new ambulance staff to provide additional capacity, which includes recruiting an additional 540 frontline staff over the last financial year.”

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