THE number of accidents and incidents affecting ambulance staff has more than doubled in two years, according to shocking new figures.
Paramedics officially complained about almost 2,596 incidents in 2012, including hundreds of road accidents, equipment failures, assaults, and exposure to infection.
The number of cases the previous year was 1,736 and the year before that only 1,242, leading to warnings that patient safety could be increasingly at risk.
The Scottish Ambulance Service revealed the growing flood of complaints from its own key staff – seven a day on average – in response to a Freedom of Information request.
Almost half of the “adverse incidents and near misses” recorded had a potential impact on the safety of patients as well as paramedics.
Over the three years there were 1,031 “equipment related/failure” complaints, increasing from 218 in 2010 to 430 in 2012.
There were a further 206 complaints over the period related to “ECG [heart monitoring] equipment” nearly doubling from 38 in 2010 to 69 last year.
Paramedics recorded 913 road traffic collisions with 315 of them in 2012.
Ambulance workers also recorded 1,256 incidents that potentially affected their own safety.
Between 2010 and 2012 complaints of physical assault rose from 119 to 188.
Issues related to “risk of infection” more than doubled over the three years from 26 to 58 as did “nipped or trapped body parts” where the figure rose from nine to 21.
Complaints about their protective equipment nearly quadrupled from 12 to 42.
There were also a total of 307 recorded incidents of “falls, trips and slips” with 93 occurring last year.
Ambulance workers – who can earn up to £27,000 per year – also made 1,051 complaints about their working conditions over the period.
A total of 384 complaints were registered by paramedics in relation to the “manual handling of patients” – up from 104 to 168.
Yet a further 88 complaints were logged by workers over the “manual handling of anything” – more than doubling from 17 in 2010 to 43 in 2012.
A total of 210 incidents of “excessive workload/fatigue” were also recorded over the time period.
The highest number of complaints by far related to tea breaks, up from 19 in 2010 to 735 in 2012.
The ambulance service has been at the centre of controversy over patients who have died while paramedics were on breaks.
In 2011 three-year-old Martyn Gray died as paramedics stationed near his home in Perthshire refused to answer a 999 call claiming they were on statutory time off.
In 2010, Mandy Mathieson, 33, from Tomintoul in Banffshire, died of a heart attack as a 999 technician less than half a mile away refused to respond while on a tea-break.
The Scottish Patients Association (SPA) said the reasons behind the flood of complaints, accidents and incidents had to be addressed to ensure lives are saved.
Dr Jean Turner from the SPA said: “That is a lot of complaints. The bottom line is paramedics need to have working equipment.
“How can they know what the patient needs if they can’t assess them properly?
“It’s not fair for the patients – if a patient is suffering a suspected heart attack they might need taken to a special cardiac unit for the best chance of survival.
“But paramedics won’t be able to do that if their equipment isn’t working.
“The Scottish Ambulance Service need to take heed of these comments and get them sorted – if they don’t then it could affect the staff’s ability to save lives.”
Scottish Conservative health spokesman Jackson Carlaw said: “Seven complaints a day is an extraordinary number of grievances even for the largest and most complex of organisations.
“I find it hard to understand how there could be cause for this many gripes from staff.
“It is fairly obvious from this the unions were instrumental in stirring up agitation about tea breaks.
“That will have resulted in an administration nightmare for the service at a time when there should have been numerous other priorities.”
The Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) insisted patients always receive “high quality” care and faulty equipment and other complaints are dealt with “as fast as possible”.
An SAS spokesman said: “All staff are encouraged to report any concerns or incidents so that any lessons are learned and quickly implemented.
“There is a clear process for staff to report any problems with equipment which is monitored on an ongoing basis.
“Repair or replacement is undertaken as soon as possible to ensure staff are properly equipped to deliver the high quality care that our patients expect.
“As part of the national implementation of new arrangements for rest breaks agreed last year, staff were actively encouraged during 2012 to report any issues with their rest break.
“The significant majority of the 735 reports were for a delay in taking the rest break during a shift.
“Complaints or specific concerns raised by staff are reviewed on an ongoing basis as well as being discussed at local and national staff partnership meetings and actioned as appropriate.”