Background Stress and psychological illness among emergency services personnel is reported at higher prevalence than the general population, with one UK ambulance service ascribing it to 15% of staff sickness. Research in this field has focused on ambulance crew views, while manager experiences are limited to EMS systems outside the UK. This qualitative study explored how UK ambulance service managers try to identify staff at risk of becoming traumatised by their work.
Methods Face-to-face, semi-structured interviews were audio-recorded with a purposive sample of six paramedic managers working for an NHS ambulance service. The author transcribed these interviews and analysed them using framework analysis. Ethical approval and informed consent were obtained.
Results All participants claimed to see the identification of potentially traumatised staff as a vital part of their role. They outlined the use of case factors such as visceral elements and child involvement, and staff factors such as home life and resilience. Interviewees talked about their changing roles as managers, peers, parent figures, clinicians, and adjudicators.
Factors found as enabling the identification of potentially traumatised staff included: knowing the staff, formalising handover to other managers, and manager presence – both at incidents and on station. Disabling factors included: atypical cases, hierarchical culture, and isolated remote staff. All participants reported concerns about staff being reluctant to report distress.
Conclusions Limitations of this study include the small sample size, possible response bias, and respondents conforming to social norms, as their practice was self-reported, rather than observed. Manager presence was highlighted as very important by participants; services should consider this in their structures and policies. Further studies could examine staff reluctance to report psychological distress, as well as staff resilience, which participants saw as beneficial, yet difficult to define or predict.
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