Paramedics in the East of England are falling asleep at the wheel of ambulances because they are overworked, a union claims.
Unison, which has members across Bedfordshire, surveyed staff and found the main cause of stress was finishing late.
The union claimed frontline staff routinely work 12-hour shifts with only a 30-minute meal break but shifts frequently last up to 15 hours, or more, because staff have to answer calls until the end of their shift wherever they are.
One paramedic with the East of England Ambulance Service said: “Late finishes affect me personally a great deal in terms of fatigue.
“You are absolutely done in, shattered. You are frightened of making a clinical error, frightened of not giving your best to the patient.
“You are frightened of falling asleep behind the wheel when you’re driving [...] some of my colleagues have done.”
Unison branch secretary Fraser Stevenson said: “Working for 12 hours is very demanding physically and often emotionally.
“It is only right that, at the end of their shift, staff can go home to rest.
“All the staff interviewed wanted to do their best for their patients, and the recent patient satisfaction surveys show this with 100 per cent patient satisfaction.”
The union has proposed changes to working conditions to prevent people working beyond the end of their shifts.
An ambulance spokesman said: “We recognise the impact late finishes have on our staff and this is one of our top priorities to address.
“We already have the most progressive late finish policies in place and we have been working closely with UNISON to develop proposals to help reduce late finishes.”
He added “hundreds more frontline staff” are being recruited, which will “further ease the pressure on exisisting staff”.
The service hoped to recruit new paramedics from two universities but this week was told student won’t qualify until next year as the courses have failed to get approval.