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New study to assess post-traumatic stress disorder in ambulance workers

NOVEMBER 10, 2008

Dr Jennifer Wild and Professor Anke Ehlers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s, are starting a new Wellcome Trust funded study to assess levels of post−traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in ambulance workers. 

Ambulance workers regularly attend to trauma, such as suicides, cot deaths, and fatal car accidents. An assessment of Oxfordshire Ambulance Service staff in 1999 estimated that 20 per cent of workers were suffering from PTSD. Their workload has doubled in the past 10 years and with the introduction of stricter response times, more ambulance workers are being sent out alone and have less opportunity to talk through traumatic events with colleagues.   The Health Commission’s annual staff survey found that 34 per cent of ambulance workers had suffered work-related stress in 2007 and research has shown they suffer higher rates of PTSD compared to the general population. Previous research has established some factors that are associated with PTSD in ambulance workers but it is not known if these factors actually lead to PTSD. Prospective research is needed that assesses ambulance workers before they attend to regular trauma, and then continues to assess them afterwards. This type of research can identify what factors lead to PTSD in this group.

The study will investigate potential predictors of PTSD in newly recruited ambulance workers who have not yet been exposed to on-the-job trauma. The aim is to establish which risk factors lead to PTSD, so that in the future, ambulance workers at risk of developing distressing PTSD symptoms can be identified before they are exposed to traumatic events.

Newly recruited ambulance workers at the London Ambulance Service will be invited to attend interview assessment at the start of their training. They will be assessed for PTSD and will complete questionnaires assessing potential predictors of PTSD. They will be contacted every four months for 2 years and will complete further questionnaires.

Chief Investigator Dr Jennifer Wild said “this study is important as we will be able to clarify the best combination of predictors for determining high risk and will be able to begin to develop a prevention programme to prevent PTSD in high risk recruits”.
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