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'Worked to the bone': Ambulance staff warned managers eight months ago about mental health

The East of England Ambulance Service has commissioned an investigation into

The East of England Ambulance Service has commissioned an investigation into "serious concerns" raised after staff deaths, but had been warned months earlier. Photo: EEAST

EEAST

Ambulance staff warned their bosses eight months ago they were being "worked to the bone", leading to mental health problems.

Dorothy Hosein, interim Chief Executive of EEAST
, was sent a letter in October by a whistleblower warning of staff abuse, according to reports. Photo: ArchantDorothy Hosein, interim Chief Executive of EEAST , was sent a letter in October by a whistleblower warning of staff abuse, according to reports. Photo: Archant

It comes after the sudden deaths of two paramedics and one control room worker at the East of England Ambulance Service Trust (EEAST) this month.

On Thursday chief executive Dorothy Hosein told staff she had commissioned an independent investigation into "serious concerns" raised by staff members following the three deaths in two weeks. It will be led by the Met Police's former HR chief Martin Tiplady.

But the announcement comes months after warnings by staff about working conditions.

A five-page document from ambulance staff in central Norfolk, which was sent to management in March, reveals how staff discontent with annual leave was putting a severe strain on their mental health.

Three staff members have died at the EEAST. Photo: EEASTThree staff members have died at the EEAST. Photo: EEAST

They said holidays were frequently cancelled or not given in the first place, making conditions "unsafe" for staff and patients.

In response, an EEAST spokesman said that after the complaint was made changes were made "promptly" to annual leave which, they said, "resolved the issues for staff".

One father wrote in the complaint that he had been told he could not change his paternity leave when the birth of this child was delayed.

"This experience has been the final nail in the coffin for me," he wrote. "I'm leaving."

Another worker asked for two days off six months in advance but that request was declined.

Someone else wrote: "I'm permanently tired. The shifts are long enough and with the late finishes, I'm sure it won't be long until I make a mistake or have an accident."

"We are all exhausted and worked to the bone", another wrote.

"Any other employer ensures that their staff get the leave that they are entitled to however I feel like I'm battling to even use my hours up."

One member who tried to get time off because of a terminally ill family member had the request declined.

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Another was unable to go away on holiday with their family leaving them "dejected and miserable".

"We are all exhausted and worked to the bone, and can't even take our annual leave to attend things such as family events," they wrote.

They criticised the trust for talking about staff wellbeing but not making it a priority.

The complaint also challenged the trust on the legalities of cancelling staff's annual leave.

And in a section called "the Impact" it raised chilling figures about the impact on mental health as well as suicide rates among emergency service workers.

"The impact on staff's mental health… is directly impacted by the ability to take holiday when requested," staff wrote. They also said it was hitting staff sickness rates, which stand at 6.5pc.

After the document was given to managers a meeting was held.

An EEAST spokesman added: "A trust-wide review of annual leave was instigated to ensure learning could be shared across the organisation.

"A review of local leave levels resulted in an increased allocation for staff and no further complaints or concerns have been raised since."

One staff member, who put their experiences into the complaint, said: "The biggest problem is the toxic atmosphere and the way managers act to us.

"People have left the job because of the way they were treated by management, but the people it affects most are the patients."

One whistleblower also warned in October of a "suicide risk" at the service because of toxic working conditions. In July regulators rated the service's leadership "inadequate" and said concerns remained around "bullying and harassment despite the trust undertaking a number of actions".

In the 2018 staff survey, the trust also scored poorly for bullying and harassment as well as for morale and health and wellbeing.

In her message to staff on Thursday Ms Hosein said: "I want to assure you that we take any allegations of harassment and bullying very seriously indeed."

She added: "Your wellbeing is a key priority for us and top of our agenda."

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