Scottish ambulance service is in critical condition says UNISON as report reveals ambulance staff are at breaking point

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Ambulance staff are over-worked and stressed says UNISON Scotland as it reveals the findings of its latest survey, An Emergency But No Accident, released today (Monday). The report is the latest in UNISON Scotland’s Damage series which looks at the impact of austerity on the country’s public services and the staff who deliver them.

The survey has shown that, despite an increase in funding and staff numbers over the past five years,  demand has increased far beyond those resources with almost nine in ten ambulance staff (85%) reporting their workloads being heavier (rising to 98% among paramedics). Shockingly, almost half of paramedics (47%) say they often think about leaving the service.

Many have experienced high levels of violence and abuse with six in ten saying they have suffered physical and/or verbal abuse at work: 40% of patient transport staff, 75% of women and 98% of paramedics. Despite these high numbers, only 5% said their employer had undertaken a risk assessment and only 2% were aware of changes being made.

Other key findings from the survey show:

  • 61% of staff would not recommend the service as a place to work rising to 70% of paramedics
  • 72% felt that their team budget had been cut
  • 63% believed their team were short staffed, rising to 67% for paramedics
  • 74% describe moral as poor or very poor
  • 25% rate their job as 10 on a 1-10 stress scale. 48% in total across the 8-10 range and only 12% rated their job 4 or below

David O’Connor, UNISON regional organiser, said: “This report reveals the immense pressure facing Scotland’s ambulance staff. It shows a dedicated workforce who are working hard to support the public under enormous pressure. They feel exhausted, undervalued and suffer violence regularly. They are struggling to deal with the demands placed upon them.

“The service is already in critical condition with ambulance staff at breaking point and demand is continuing to grow. We need urgent action to increase funding and resources in order to deliver the high quality of care our patients rely on and deserve.”

Liam Boyling, UNISON Scottish Ambulance Service branch secretary, said: “This report sends a stark warning to the Scottish Ambulance Service. Staff are struggling to keep up with the demands placed upon them and it’s not just the staff that suffer, it’s patients too. The lack of staff and resources is impacting patients in a number of ways – from patient transport being cancelled to lengthy waits for ambulance crews.

“Workers are exhausted from the physical and emotional demands of the jobs and it’s no wonder that the majority would not recommend it as a place to work. We’re already at crisis point and we need urgent action to protect this vital service.”

What our members said:

  • Cannot keep up with the amount of work – resources stretched to the limit and even if you upped the resources 50% it still would not be enough.
  • increased demand, higher stress levels on staff to keep going, lack of resources to assist, increased intensity of jobs and lack of debrief time or stress breaks when required due to limited resources
  • Severe delays to patients awaiting ambulance. Severe stress on staff taking calls/dispatching requests for ambulance.
  • Not enough paramedics or technicians not enough ambulances to cope with demand
  • Many patients denied transport and some journeys cancelled due to staff shortages
  • No meal breaks for 9 hours or more, late finishes & no time to restock vehicle or fuel vehicle throughout shift.
  • Home life is suffering i feel stressed before coming to work


Notes to editors:

You can find the full survey available online at:

  • To supplement the information given by members we also placed a freedom of information request to the Scottish Ambulance Service.
  • The ambulance staff who responded to our survey have a wide range of jobs including paramedics, technicians, patient transport staff, ambulance control staff and students.

For further information please contact:

David O’Connor, UNISON regional organiser, on 07958 121 861

Stevie Gilroy, UNISON’s Scottish Ambulance Service branch secretary, 07881 356392

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