1. ITV Report

'It was like someone had dropped a boulder on top of my head': Ambulance workers speak out over stress and anxiety

  • Almost 1 in 5 paramedics from East Midlands Ambulance Service took time off due to stress, anxiety or other mental health conditions in the 12 months leading up to September last year.
  • They speak about a fast pace of work and the emotional trauma of incidents.
  • The service is now the first in the UK to have a chaplain to support employees and they have a peer to peer support network, spreading the message it's ok to talk, and trained to spot the signs of problems.

Daniel's worked at East Midlands Ambulance Service for three years, and says he can't imagine doing any other job.

But a few months ago everything suddenly got too much.

It was like someone had dropped a boulder on top of my head.

I couldn't go to work, I was shaking, I was crying, it's something that I've never felt before and it's something I can't really describe unless you've actually been there.

– Daniel Chow, Paramedic

Lee is in charge of deep cleaning ambulances between jobs. He began to experience feelings of overwhelming anxiety.

I broke down emotionally. I've never cried before since I was younger, and I couldn't carry on.

– Lee Goddard, Ambulance worker

Daniel was back at work in a few days after his boss took time out to talk to him, made sure he was safe, and arranged medical referrals.

Lee took three months to recover, supported along the way by EMAS, who know ambulance staff see and hear about the most traumatic of experiences every day.

EMAS paramedics took time off due to stress, anxiety or other mental health conditions Sep 2017-2018
Working days lost over a 12 month period to stress-related conditions

This freedom of information data obtained by ITV News Central doesn't state whether time is off for work-related or personal reasons.

But NHS workers do have a pressurised job - staff shortages, response targets, routinely long shifts and the emotions of dealing with sick patients and their families all add up.

In the East Midlands, the ambulance service is the first in the UK to employ a chaplain whose job it is to support all the staff.

We recognise there's a stigma of mental health and we're doing something about it.

We're continuously saying it's ok for you to talk, it's ok to say you're struggling, there's nothing wrong with it.

– Rev Kevin Charles, East Midlands Ambulance Service Chaplain

There's also a peer support service made up of volunteers trained to spot the signs and symptoms of someone experiencing anxiety, stress or depression.

There are 200 volunteers available for colleagues to speak to. It's all part of Mind's Blue Light programme especially for the emergency services.

Thanks to the support in place, Lee now says he's equipped to monitor his own mental well being,

It was a weight lifted from my shoulders.

I just felt a lot easier, I could talk, express how I felt. I know if I get to that point again, I know what to do in future.

– Lee Goddard, Ambulance worker

24 hours after our investigation, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock promised to create a dedicated 24 hour support service to improve the mental health of NHS workers.

He's proposing fast-tracked counselling after traumatic incidents, as well as introducing Wellbeing Guardians in every NHS workplace.