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The number of south west ambulance staff seeking wellbeing support is revealed – Devon Live

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The number of ambulance service staff seeking help in the south west for their wellbeing has been revealed as being a quarter of employees.

A Freedom of Information (FOI) request submitted by Devon Live has identified 15 per cent of Devon staff employed by South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust’s (SWASFT) have sought the help of its confidential Staying Well Service.

It is aimed at any experiencing any issues affecting their wellbeing. Reasons could be physical, financial, or mental health based, and support offered includes signposting and referral to services such as physiotherapy, counselling, and debt management advice. 

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The service was launched in December 2015. Figures show in 2017/18 the service was used by 1,056 employees. The following year it increased to 1,125. The most current figures for 2019/20 state it has been used by 376 employees so far.

When broken down by operational county area, there were 154 referrals in 2017/18 which was 14 per cent of referrals. The following year it increased to 170 which was 15 per cent of referrals. This year to date it has been used by 55 employees which is 14 per cent of referrals.

The trust’s Devon-based operational staff account for around 23 per cent of the total operational workforce. The Staying Well Service serves the whole of the trust but is based in Exeter.

A previous FOI submitted by Devon Live revealed in January how the ambulance service lost a fifth of its staff in the previous financial year and had around 100 people on long-term sick leave.

 

It followed the trust facing unprecedented demand for its services, and having been rocked by complaints and staff suicides.

SWASFT, which provides emergency and urgent care as well as patient transport services across the whole of the South West region, has a large workforce, employing in the region of 4,500 staff.

Last November, an employment tribunal heard Dr Charlie-Emma Smith, who worked within the Staying Well Service (SWS) of South Western Ambulance Service Trust (SWASFT), was claiming fundamental breaches of contract relating to unfair dismissal.

 

An internal disciplinary investigation into the conduct of an ambulance trust worker has been described by a union representative as having been unlike anything he had witnessed before, and left him ‘deeply concerned’ and troubled over the way it was conducted in a ‘maleficent manner’.

Exeter Combined Court has heard how she suffered a mental breakdown after becoming the subject of an investigation. Miss Smith claims she was subjected to ‘systematic and unrelenting bullying’ from her manager.

A reserved judgement was later delivered which stated Miss Smith, of Newton Abbot, was unfairly constructively dismissed by the trust, and the case was relisted for a remedy hearing.

A further judgement then stated the proceedings were dismissed following a withdrawal of the claim by the claimant.

Abbey Court, the headquarters of South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust
Abbey Court, the headquarters of South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust

The FOI submitted by Devon Live also requested details of how many employees used a service called Red Poppy which helps employees within organisations deal with the effects of work related stress, personal stress and trauma.

The trust said it was unable to provide usage numbers because the information was not held in a ‘reportable form’, and it would require a manual review of every welfare record and checking who individuals were referred to.

The response stated: “It would take approximately 10 minutes to review each file; for the period in question this would mean a review of over 2,400 files at a time of 400 hours.

“This is in excess of the acceptable fees limit allowed under the FOI act.”

 

A spokesman for SWASFT said: “Our staff are actively encouraged to report incidents of stress, including personal and financial, as well as work-related issues to our acclaimed Staying Well Service.

“They are regularly exposed to traumatic incidents by the very nature of the emergency life-saving work they do and the Staying Well Service has proved a huge success, providing support and welfare for many of the 4,500 staff employed by the ambulance service.

“The Staying Well Service is provided in addition to the various support mechanisms already available, for example debriefings following challenging incidents. Staff can access this facility for problems and issues stemming from their personal life as well as situations occurring at work which are adversely affecting them.” 

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