ALMOST a quarter of ambulance staff in the North-East took time off work last year due to stress, new figures have revealed.

Research from the GMB Union shows that 22 per cent of North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) staff, including paramedics, were absent from work due to “stress, anxiety and related conditions” during the last financial year.

The figure is the second highest in the country, behind the East Midlands, and compares to just nine per cent of workers in Yorkshire.

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Last night, critics said the figures showed the service was “underfunded".

One in eight workers took a total of more than 80,000 stress-related sick days in 2016-17, according to GMB.

A National Audit Office report published earlier this year found that the NEAS received £26.70 worth of funding per head, which was almost £10 lower than the South-East receives, and more than £8 lower than Yorkshire.

Dr Paul Williams, MP for Stockton South, said the figures were "very worrying".

“The National Audit Office report published earlier this year shows that funding for the NEAS is much less than other parts of the country.

“Some of my constituents are waiting one hour or even longer on a regular basis for an ambulance.

“It is systematic of not having the right level of investment."

Simon Clarke, MP for Middlesbrough South and east Cleveland, said the figure was "unsustainably high".

“Our ambulance teams do fantastic work in what is intrinsically a high pressure job, and I have huge sympathy for those who struggle as a result.

“The Government is playing its role having recruited 2,200 more paramedics since 2010, but there is also a key role for NEAS to ensure they are learning from best practice in other organisations and offering the appropriate support."

A NEAS spokesperson said: “Our absence rates are reflective of the physical and mental demands placed on our hard-working staff on a daily basis.

“Their health and wellbeing is of the utmost importance and we are working hard to reduce sickness absence across the Trust.

“We have an in-house Occupational Health team who are able to support our employees and signpost them to appropriate services, including physiotherapists, doctors, clinical psychologists and other counselling services."

Steve Page, executive director of quality, governance and performance assurance at Yorkshire Ambulance Service NHS Trust, said: “We recognise that our frontline staff do an incredibly challenging job, often in difficult circumstances, and have faced additional pressure due to the ever-increasing demands placed on our emergency service.

“We take the health and wellbeing of our workforce very seriously and have a number of initiatives in place to provide support to those staff who need it."