Unsung heroes are feeling the strain – new study

Published: 5 April 2016 at 12:30

Ambulance in London

Anglia Ruskin Professor involved in study on wellbeing of ambulance dispatchers

Ambulance dispatchers are feeling overloaded and undervalued, and have high sickness rates as a result, according to a study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal.

Researchers, including Professor Patricia Schofield from Anglia Ruskin University, compiled feedback from Emergency Medical Services (EMS) dispatch staff, who receive information from call handlers, assess the emergency situation and resources available and send help accordingly.

Among the common issues identified as triggers for stress included lack of available resources such as ambulances or staff, short recovery times and a feeling that they are not valued by other teams within the organisation, such as paramedics.

Interviews revealed that while staff are allotted a certain amount of time to take breaks during a regular 12-hour shift, several staff choose not to take them at all because situations can change in a short period of time and catching up can be stressful. Some also felt the mandatory, multidisciplinary training days provided within the organisation were sometimes not relevant to their role.

The UK Emergency Medical Services (EMS) sector saw 6.78% worker days lost to sickness in the period between January and March 2014. This compares to the national average sickness rate of 1.6% for men and 2.6% for women in 2013.

Professor Schofield, Deputy Dean for Research within Anglia Ruskin’s Faculty of Health, Social Care and Education, said: 

“The role of ambulance dispatch personnel has been under-researched academically, as have the stresses they encounter when doing their job. 

“It is a role that requires a split-second decision based on changing factors, with the knowledge that it could be a life-or-death situation. They really are some of the unsung heroes of the NHS.

“The staff interviewed said they enjoy their work and take great pride in the job that they do but admitted that, despite an increasing workload, they felt overlooked and marginalised by other people within their organisation and perceived as ‘faceless’.

“Many also reported finding it hard to unwind at home and having difficulty getting their friends and family to understand the magnitude of their role at work.

“With sickness levels among healthcare staff currently the highest in the public sector, it is important to understand the difficulties that these workers face and find ways of reducing the stress they find themselves under.”

The work was a partnership between Anglia Ruskin University, the University of East Anglia, the University of Surrey, South East Coast Ambulance NHS Foundation Trust, Kingston University and St George’s, University of London.

The full study can be read online here.