999 workers’ suicide shock

Emergency services are tackling stress among their staff
Emergency services are tackling stress among their staff

More than a quarter of emergency service workers have considered taking their own lives, shocking new figures have revealed.

An online survey by mental health charity Mind showed 27 per cent had thought about suicide due to stress and poor mental health while working for the emergency services, while nearly two-thirds – 63 per cent – had contemplated leaving their job.

There is a massive increase in the number of people suffering work-related stress issues

The poll involved 1,600 staff and volunteers.

Mind launched a major initiative last year – the Blue Light Programme – which has seen 54 employers and nine national associations sign the Blue Light Time To Change pledge, a commitment to raising awareness of mental health.

Faye McGuinness, Blue Light Programme manager, said: “The challenging nature of the job, with its unique pressures, can put staff and volunteers at greater risk of developing a mental health problem. That’s why it’s so important support is made available – to ensure dedicated workers are at their best and ready to carry out these incredibly-difficult and life-saving roles we often take for granted.

“Lots of our respondents said they feel they would be treated differently if they had a mental health problem, and wouldn’t feel comfortable coming forward if they were struggling. Thankfully, there is a great deal of good practice happening at an organisational level across the country, as a result of activity being delivered via Mind’s Blue Light Programme.”

Tony Dunn, acting convenor for GMB at North West Ambulance Service (NWAS), said there had been “a very big problem” but changes were being made and he is one of the “blue light champions”.

Mr Dunn said: “The management have taken the bull by the horns and we do have workshops now that are working to relieve it.”

Neil Cosgrove, senior convenor for Unite in NWAS, said: “There is a massive increase in the number of people suffering work-related stress issues, whether it’s due to the workload, what we are being put through, the type of jobs we are going to in respect of serious jobs or violent and aggressive jobs. The support we are getting from management is something that NWAS as an organisation is addressing now.”

An NWAS spokesman said: “The trust is pleased our staff sickness levels are continuing to improve with sickness rates 1.46 per cent less than the same period last year.

“We have progressive employment policies in place that are designed to assist in the creation of a good work-life balance and, in turn, help support staff who suffer from stress or illness – be it work or non-work related.”

He said the trust had signed up to the Blue Light Programme and had other measures in place, including a flexible working policy, sickness absence policy, counselling and a health and wellbeing group.”

Rachel Baines, Lancashire Police Federation branch chairman, said: “There is no doubt the reduction in officer numbers contributes to the mental wellbeing of officers, there are over 800 less officers in Lancashire since 2010, but there has been no reduction in workload. The police service has also seen a change in demand, with child exploitation, human trafficking and other serious offences seeing increases. This is putting pressure on officers who don’t have enough resources to deal with demand. Officers are in addition owed in excess of 14,000 days off, this is also contributing to burnout.”

Lancashire Constabulary’s Deputy Chief Constable Andy Rhodes, who is also the national lead for wellbeing said: “We want our people to thrive in this incredibly-rewarding job, not just feel they are surviving. Unfortunately, cultural stigmas still exist and this can prevent our staff from talking about how these experiences affect them.

“We are working hard to create a culture where our staff feel confident in talking about their experiences so that we can work on prevention rather than cure.”

John Taylor, press officer for Lancashire Fire And Rescue Service, said there was a low turnover of staff and levels of absence due to sickness were “very low”.

He added: “We have processes in place to identify and support staff with any illness issues.”