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999 for the ambulance service?

Roger Kline, 26 March 2014

Isn’t it about time someone took serious notice of the NHS national staff survey results for ambulance staff? They look like a case for the casualty department.

Last year’s results were pretty dismal.  This year's are worse.

The survey report itself states: “It is important to note that ambulance staff work in a distinct and different environment to others in the NHS and they report poorer experiences on many of the issues picked up by the staff survey.”

But why should that different environment mean worse staff experience, and what can be done about it?

The good news is that 86% of staff agree that their role makes a difference to patients, but that’s about the only plus point in the staff survey.

  • In the NHS as a whole, 41% of staff “were satisfied with the extent to which they felt that their organisation values their work”, an increase from 40% in 2012. For ambulance staff the figures was half that at 21%, down from 23% in 2012.
  • Whlle 38% of all NHS staff say their appraisals — an important indicator — were well structured, up from 36% in 2012, for ambulance staff the figure is 18%, and this falls to a truly dismal 11% in London.
  • 36% of NHS staff reported good communication between senior management and staff. That’s hardly good, but drops to 19% (down from 20% in 2012) for ambulance staff. In SE Coast ambulance service just 9% of staff reported good communication with senior management!
  • For the NHS as a whole, just 30% of staff feel that there are enough staff to enable them to do their jobs properly but this falls to 20% for ambulance staff.
  • 69% of NHS staff said they felt able to contribute towards improvements at work. This dropped to 44% for ambulance staff and to an astonishing 29% in London.
  • 39% of NHS staff reported that during the last 12 months they have felt unwell as a result of work related stress, rising slightly from 38% in 2012. This figure is higher among staff in ambulance trusts at 51% (up from 44%) and highest in London (61%).
  • 23% of NHS staff reported they had experienced bullying, harassment or abuse from either their line manager or other colleagues. This rose to 26% among ambulance staff (33% in London and SE Coast).
  • 29% of NHS staff say they would not feel safe raising concerns and this rose to 39% for ambulance staff. Only 41% of ambulance staff say they feel confident their organisation would address concerns if they did raise them compared to 54% in the NHS as a whole.
  • 85% of NHS staff believe their trust provides equal opportunities for career progression or promotion but this fell to 68% amongst ambulance staff.
  • 11% of staff said they had experienced discrimination at work in the last 12 months. This rose to 18% for ambulance staff and to a shocking 28% for London ambulance staff.

These statistics are yielded by data collected from 9,000 ambulance staff, and they paint a grim picture of the service's workplace culture.

Yet we know how this can be fixed, through leadership based on listening to and involving staff more effectively to enable them to participate in setting clear goals and evaluate progress in achieving them, and by ensuring there are enough staff with the right training, support and equipment to do their jobs well. (Public World's Best Workplace methodology can help.)

As inquiry after inquiry and report after report has shown, that is urgently needed in the NHS as a whole — and even more so, it appears, in the ambulance service in particular.

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