Scores of people stopped working as paramedics in Scotland last year as frontline services continued to feel the strain of the coronavirus pandemic.
New data shows 64 people left their positions at the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) in 2021, a five-year high, prompting unions to warn that not enough measures are in place to stop staff burnout.
A Freedom of Information request revealed that 258 staff overall lef or changed jobs at the SAS including 51 technicians, 48 drivers and 52 in the control centre.
The service said the numbers did not necessarily represent the number of staff which had quit the service, and may include staff who had held a position to move into another job in the service like a member of the control centre moving from their position following a successful application to a frontline vacancy.
Karen Leonard, GMB Scotland organiser, said that “the numbers are not surprising, but they are a conservative analysis of a crisis, because the true picture for frontline staff is far more critical”.
“What Covid-19 has done is expose the impact of real-terms cuts to budgets and resources over the last decade, but while the pandemic will be fuelling staff flight, it’s not the root cause of it and there’s no getting away from that,” she said.
“After years of extreme pressure, and nearly two years of working in a state of fear, staff are angry and exhausted, they have nothing left to give.
“Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to a crisis that’s been years in the making.
“Like the entire health and social care sector, SAS needs serious and sustained investment so it can operate efficiently and safely, for patients and staff alike.
“A good place to start a recovery is for the government and management to work with our members properly to address the service challenges, rather than spinning plates in the hope of keeping an emergency service on life support.”
The Scottish Ambulance Service said in November it will be “accelerating” recruitment of staff to boost capacity amid current pressures on the system.
A total of 356 front line paramedics, technicians and ambulance care assistants will join the service by March.
The ambulance service has been under pressure in recent months and long waits for ambulances prompted the Scottish Government to call in the help of both the Army and firefighters to drive some non-emergency vehicles.
Scottish Labour health spokesperson Jackie Baillie said: “It is not surprising that so many frontline ambulance service workers are left feeling like they have no option but to leave the work they love.
“Even before the pandemic, they were expected to do more after cuts to their budget over the last decade.
“But the pandemic has turned 14 years of SNP mismanagement of our NHS into a daily crisis – with the ambulance service being forced to deal with some of the most difficult pressures.
“Staff are exhausted and warm words from Nicola Sturgeon aren’t enough.”Our NHS needs an ambitious plan for recovery that makes the serious and sustained investment in services that are needed.
“But it also must put staff welfare front and centre – these workers have been the heroes of the pandemic and must be properly rewarded.”
Last month, it was revealed staffing shortages left the emergency service without the required number of workers for more than one in 10 shifts during the summer months.
A spokesman for the Unite union said that there was “is nothing in place to prevent burnout despite the SAS being made aware in various forums”.
“In November, Unite released the survey findings of hundreds of SAS staff.
“The survey revealed that by huge majorities SAS workers feel under-valued, fatigued, and that staff morale has collapsed, alongside the vast majority of workers stating the nation’s ambulance service is under-resourced and under-staffed,” the spokesman said.
“Substantial majorities of SAS workers also state that they have considered leaving the ambulance service and reported that they have been abused at work in the last year.”