03:57am Thursday 21 November 2019

Shiftwork damages paramedics' health: research

A total of 342 Metropolitan Ambulance service staff on shiftwork rosters completed a survey, which also revealed that:

  • paramedics are at greater risk of chronic fatigue than other shiftworkers;
  • almost 25 per cent of paramedics suffer from an above-normal degree of anxiety; and
  • almost 40 per cent suffer from stress.

Most paramedics in the survey worked at least 48 hours a week: two 10-hour dayshifts and two 14-hour nightshifts. It seems likely that many also worked overtime.

The research was carried out by Associate Professor Andrew Francis from the Division of Psychology within RMIT’s School of Health Sciences, with principal researcher James Courtney and colleague Professor Susan Paxton, both from La Trobe University. Mr Courtney began the research while undertaking Honours study at RMIT.

Associate Professor Francis said poor sleep quality was the key factor in explaining why Melbourne paramedics were at increased risk of fatigue, depression, anxiety and stress.

“Paramedics are paying the cost of rotating shiftwork,” he said. “Only 30 per cent of paramedics are good sleepers. That’s not surprising when they have to start work at 7am on dayshifts, and when long nightshifts require a quick turnaround.”

Mr Courtney said: “Ambulance services need to be provided 24 hours a day, but the way those services are staffed needs to be reconsidered.

“Paramedics on 14-hour nightshifts, in particular, are likely to be particularly tired – and that poses a high and potentially unsustainable demand on their ability to think quickly and effectively where lives can be at risk.”

For interviews: Associate Professor Andrew Francis, (03) 9925 7782 or 0400 180 262, or James Courtney, 0488 333 348.

For general media enquiries: RMIT University Communications, David Glanz, (03) 9925 2807 or 0438 547 723, or La Trobe University Media and Communications, Lisa Prowling, (03) 9479 5353.

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