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Revealed: Stresses that are making our paramedics ill

By Victoria O'Hara

Published 10/04/2015

Paramedics in Northern Ireland are experiencing "dangerously high" workplace pressures with 96% of them suffering from stress, a survey has claimed.

According to health workers' union Unison, ambulance staff are suffering sleep problems, irritability and anxiety through long hours, staff shortages and the demands of the job.

The UK-wide review, which involved 248 workers from Northern Ireland, said two-thirds had to take time off sick.

One paramedic described work as "an endurance test" and another explained they were about to "explode" as they had not taken a day off in a decade. Another said that the closures of hospitals resulted in them driving hundreds of miles every day.

Key findings of the survey revealed 71% were suffering sleep problems, 73% felt irritable as a result and experienced mood swings, and 64% had anxiety. It also showed that frontline workers had to take time off sick because of work-related stress and a further fifth admitted they were very close to doing so. Others described being tearful, having post-traumatic stress disorder and feeling exhausted.

One paramedic said: "Work is becoming an endurance test. It is physically and mentally draining and if you tell management of your concerns you are told to your face if you don't like it there are plenty of people who are happy to take your place. So we're beaten before we start."

Another said: "Too few ambulances and missed meals would stress anyone."

Unison regional organiser Nuala Conlon said the current system was unacceptable and claimed concerns were falling on "deaf ears" in management.

"Working in emergency services is stressful but the pressure on ambulance staff is reaching dangerously high levels," she said.

"It is unacceptable that the current system doesn't allow for proper breaks between shifts. Higher call-out rates and lengthy waits outside A&E departments are adding to the problem. It is clear that the pressure caused by government funding cuts is having a huge impact on staff and on patient safety."

Ms Conlon also claimed many workers are "suffering in silence".

"Year after year the levels of stress remain unacceptably high and yet neither employers nor the government have done anything to address this," she said.

No one from the NIAS was available for comment last night.

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