Three unions representing ambulance workers have balloted their members over strike action, resulting in every ambulance trust except one voting in favour of strike action across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Ambulance staff are a 24-hour emergency service, working high levels of overtime and shift work. Their working experiences have been of concern for some time: ambulance staff have consistently lower levels of satisfaction, with evidence that this has worsened particularly over the past year.
A key part of the current industrial dispute relates to pay. This year, ambulance workers are likely to see their pay fall to around 4% behind inflation. Ambulance staff were a notable exception in pay trends to 2021/22, however, with their average earnings returning to levels last seen in 2010/11. But the reasons for the strike action are highly complex. To help understand some of the context behind the ambulance staff strike, here we provide a set of key statistics on ambulances, and the paramedics, technicians and assistant practitioners in England that keep the service running.
Read the summary below, and download the slide pack of facts and figures on the ambulance workforce.
This year ambulance workers may see their pay fall to around 4% behind inflation.
The average earnings of ambulance staff returned to levels last seen in 2010/11 this year, unlike some other staff groups. This is partly because ambulance staff receive the highest level of overtime and shift work payments.
On average, a paramedic in England would have earned around £46,643 in the 12 months to March 2022, prior to the latest pay settlement. The starting salary for paramedics in England and Wales is £27,055.
1 in 10 paramedics left their job in the 12 months to June 2022. Some 1 in 4 have said when surveyed that they would leave the role as soon as they could find another job.
Working experiences of paramedics have been a longstanding concern. Compared to other staff groups, they have consistently lower levels of satisfaction, which have deteriorated further in the last year.
Ambulance staff are frustrated at being unable to provide an adequate service for patients: response times for life-threatening calls take nearly 10 minutes on average, against a target of 7 minutes. The response time for category 2 calls, which may be dealing with a heart attack or stroke, for example, average waiting times are more than one hour.
Number of ambulance staff
There are 17,847 full-time equivalent professionally qualified ambulance staff in the NHS in England as of June 2022. Some 16,900 of those are paramedics, and there are 25,000 ambulance support staff, such as technicians and assistant practitioners.
Ambulance staff leaving the NHS
1 in 10 paramedics (that's 1,760 people) left active service in the year to June 2022, exceeding the number of joiners in the same period (1,650). Over 1 in 4 paramedics reported that they would leave their role as soon as they could find another job. This compares to less than one in five nurses signaling the same intention.
The working experiences of paramedics have been a longstanding concern. Compared to other staff groups, they have consistently lower levels of satisfaction, which have deteriorated further in the last year. Staff are increasingly frustrated at being unable to provide an adequate service for patients – with category 1 (life-threatening) calls waiting 9 minutes 56 seconds on average, compared to the target of 7 minutes. For category 2 calls (such as for heart attack or stroke), the average waiting time now exceeds one hour (against a target of 18 minutes).
Ambulance staff pay
The average NHS earnings of a paramedic in England in the year to March 2022 was £46,643, prior to the new pay settlement, including those working part-time. Across all ambulance staff (including those not professionally qualified), the average NHS earnings in the year to March 2022 was around £39,300. Average NHS earnings across all ambulance staff rose by £91 above inflation between 2010/11 and 2021/22, though in the last three years the real-terms increase has been around £3,600.
Paramedics' starting salary is very slightly higher than the average graduate starting salary: paramedics in England and Wales start at £27,055. This has increased by more than inflation since 2012/13. The average graduate starting salary in any profession ranges between £24,000 and £26,999.