Ambulance staff are battling “serious distress” as they struggle to care for patients amid high demand and lengthy delays, a report has shown.
“Many staff cried or displayed extreme emotion” as they described the challenges they face on a day-to-day basis to researchers with England’s Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch.
The organisation’s report shines a light on staff caught at the centre of a national crisis that has seen patients stuck for hours in ambulances as emergency departments struggle to free up beds. As emergency vehicles queue to convey patients to hospitals, this prevents them responding quickly to other patients in the community.
National investigator Neil Alexander, who led the report, said staff “have shared with us the distress over delays and the harm that it is causing to patients and how this has affected their personal wellbeing.”
“We heard words like ‘demoralising,’ ‘powerless’, ‘hurt’, ‘relentless’ during our interviews with them, and many expressed they are feeling the burden and experiencing moral injury,” he said in a statement.
The research highlights how important it is that staff feel able to offer safe care to patients, according to the HSIB. Staff wellbeing, the organisation argues, should be a critical component in patient safety planning.
Staff are also facing “phenomenal” levels of abuse as patients and their families endure extremely long waits, the BBC reports.
The outlet interviewed a number of ambulance workers about their experiences, including one call handler who said: “I’ve seen colleagues try to calm someone down and apologise for the wait time only to be hit with a wall of abuse. I’ve seen colleagues cry after finishing these calls.”
Julian Hartley, who leads hospital management body NHS Providers said the HSIB report reflected the “mounting pressure” facing England’s ambulance workers.
“Long shifts, often on the road and away from the support of colleagues or managing high stress situations, can lead to feelings of isolation, which can make managing an already-challenging job even more emotionally taxing,” he said in a statement.
“At the heart of this problem lie systemic issues including high demand, low capacity, delayed discharges and vast workforce shortages.
“This feeds into a deeply challenging work environment right across the system, which leaves staff feeling they can’t provide the care they want to — leading to a sense of moral injury, further exacerbating a difficult situation.”
A spokesperson for the country’s public health system, NHS England, told the BBC there was “no doubt” staff had experienced “significant challenges” over winter, adding that: “The safety of both patients and staff is vital, and the NHS takes staff health and wellbeing incredibly seriously with a range of support including dedicated helplines, wellbeing apps and coaching, as well as the option of flexible working.”
The Department for Health and Social Care, which recently released a plan to try and combat the emergency care crisis, said it was “scaling up community teams, expanding virtual wards, and getting 800 new ambulances on to the roads,” to relieve pressure on overstretched services.