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Paramedics (Mental Health)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

2. To ask the Scottish Government what its response is to reports that the number of paramedics signed off work with depression or stress increased by more than 40 per cent last year. (S5T-01528)

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

We value the tremendous work that Scottish Ambulance Service staff do, often in exceptionally challenging conditions. Employee health and wellbeing is fundamental, which is why we have made clear that the Scottish Ambulance Service must have robust policies in place to support mental health and wellbeing. The board has provided assurances that a number of programmes that provide dedicated stress incident management and effective trauma support are already under way across the service.

Scottish Ambulance Service funding has increased to a record high and paramedic staffing has increased by 19 per cent. We are committed to ensuring that the service has the resources that it needs to support staff and promote employee welfare.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

In 2018, 151 paramedics took time off for anxiety, stress or depression, which was a rise of 42.5 per cent on the previous year. Does the minister agree that the statistics are shocking?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I agree that the welfare of our staff is fundamental, which is why we have been clear that the Ambulance Service must have robust policies in place to manage employee health and wellbeing. We will continue to work with the service to support the delivery of effective health and wellbeing initiatives, including training, counselling and peer support. One example of that is the Anchor centre in Glasgow, which my colleague the Minister for Mental Health visited just last week.

Photo of Alexander Stewart Alexander Stewart Conservative

Staff in the Ambulance Service have suggested that there is a reluctance by their employer to accept that staff suffer from post-traumatic stress. Staff have reported that there is not much support available to them. Will the minister commit to doing all that he can, as a matter of urgency, to help the Ambulance Service to educate its staff and furnish them with the necessary skills to cope with post-traumatic stress?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

I have just talked about the policies that we expect to be in place. Another point that I should make is that the figures that were released in December 2018, which relate to Alexander Stewart’s question, are based on self-reporting by staff, so the idea that it has something to do with management is not right.

Photo of David Stewart David Stewart Labour

The minister might be aware that I raised the issue of sickness levels in the Ambulance Service at the Health and Sport Committee last week. The Ambulance Service has the third highest level of sickness absence in all of Scotland’s health boards, and the levels have remained static year on year. Is the minister confident that the current approach of the Ambulance Service leadership is sufficient to support the workforce and reverse the trend?

Photo of Joe FitzPatrick Joe FitzPatrick Scottish National Party

It is important that we keep ensuring that the Ambulance Service—as well as every other part of our health service—provides the appropriate support to its staff. We must provide staff with the correct resources, which is why we have increased funding substantially to the service. The number of paramedics has increased by 19 per cent, and we are committed to training 1,000 more paramedics over the course of this parliamentary session. It is important that we have the correct resources and structure in place to support those staff.