Unite Scotland has today (11 November), in a Daily Record exclusive, revealed the details of a ‘devastating’ survey conducted of nearly 300 Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) workers. 

The survey conducted over the last month by the trade union among its SAS members reveals a ‘horrifying’ picture of the nation’s ambulance service due to years of ‘chronic underfunding’.

The survey reveals 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. 

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.

The headline survey findings reveal the following:

  • 98.2% believe that Scottish Government’s extra investment of £20m into the SAS and support from the armed services will ‘not be enough’ during the winter months;

  • 88.2% do not feel valued by the Scottish Government and 84.6% do not feel valued by the SAS;

  • 86.7% of SAS workers felt that staff morale was either poor (30.8%) or very poor (55.9%);

  • 86.4% feel fatigued at work while 78.9% believe the SAS is under-staffed;

  • 81.5% have suffered verbal or physical abuse, or both, while working at the SAS within the last year;

  • 73.6% of respondents said they have considered leaving the SAS;

  • 70% do not get the necessary break times during shifts;

  • 53.8% stated that there were not enough ambulances at ‘station level’; and

  • 44.3% stated that the longest shift they have worked was between 12-15 hours, 30%between 15-20 hours; 17.5% between 10-12 hours while 5.7% stated it was under 10 hours and 2.5% over 20 hours. 

In a previous Daily Record exclusive on 9 September, Unite called for a ‘major incident’ status to be declared at all hospitals with Accident and Emergency Units, where turnaround times exceed 30 minutes.  The demand was made by Unite to protect the public who have made 999 calls in the community, amid patient safety concerns due to 6 hours service running times. 

On average, an ambulance response to a 999 call can take between 55 minutes, and 1 hour and 10 minutes, from call to completion. However, ambulances are now missing three 999 calls while located at a hospital waiting for patient handovers.  

The survey findings shed new light on this depressing situation with nearly 71% of respondents declaring that the longest 999 call they have been involved in from call to completion exceeded six hours: (16.3% - over 20 hours), (11.7% between 15-20 hours), (6.3% between 12-15 hours), (4.6% between 10-12 hours), (5.4% between 8-10 hours), and (26.4% between 6-8 hours), with the remainder being under 6 hours. 

Worryingly, 94.5% of survey respondents involved in ambulance 999 call-outs believed the clinical coding to ascertain the severity of the situation was wrong. In addition, 54.7% answered ‘yes’ to the question ‘due to longer service running times has your ‘call’ been involved in an adverse clinical event due to delays and hospital pressures?’

Unite Scotland has repeatedly warned the Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, that the extra investment and resources for the SAS would ‘not be enough’ to deal with the crises affecting the nation’s health services, which the survey findings conclusively confirm. 

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish Secretary, in response to the survey findings, said: “I don’t think I have ever seen such an utterly depressing and horrifying situation with massive implications for the nation. The workers at the Scottish Ambulance Service are sending out their own 999 call to the Scottish Government saying that they are undervalued, stressed, and exhausted. It is now beyond breaking point.

“The levels of abuse the workers are suffering is inexcusable. The vast majority of those responding to our survey are going as far as to say they are now considering leaving the ambulance service.

“Shockingly, the survey reveals a culture of extremely long hours, partially due to chronic underfunding over many years, and the overwhelming stresses being placed on the system. This situation is directly leading to paramedics and ambulance staff being increasingly involved in adverse clinical events, and dangerously long response times.

“It is a devasting indictment of the Scottish Government’s approach to the ambulance service. Urgent action is necessary because lives are at risk alongside the fundamental issue of how we value those trying to save those lives.”