Paramedics and ambulance staff are having to take more time off sick due to anxiety, stress and depression, according to Scottish Ambulance Service figures.
The number of ambulance service staff signed off due to mental health issues has risen in each of the previous three years.
The figures, revealed in a freedom of information request by the Scottish Conservatives, show a 28.7% increase from 404 absences in 2016-17, rising to 455 the following year and up to 520 in 2018-19.
In the first seven months of 2019-20, there were 379 staff signed due to their mental health – with 648 projected to have been absent if the current rate continues for the rest of the year.
The Scottish Ambulance Service expressed concern for staff’s mental well-being in September, stating: “Absence cases for stress/anxiety/mental health-related conditions have increased, resulting in long-term absence causes which continue to require significant attention.”
Calling for improved working conditions and resources to reduce pressure on staff, Scottish Conservative mental health spokeswoman Annie Wells said: “Ambulance staff do a great job looking after us when we need them.
“It’s clearly time for that favour to be returned because it’s in no-one’s interests for increasing numbers of Scottish Ambulance Service workers to be off with these very serious problems.
“This is where the SNP Government has to step in and ensure not only that the organisation has enough resources to make the job bearable but also to provide support for those who need it.”
She added: “These statistics show there is a worsening problem within the ambulance service and it cannot be allowed to continue.
“It is one of the most important professions around and we can’t afford for hundreds of those individuals to be suffering in this way.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We value the tremendous job our ambulance service staff do in what can be exceptionally challenging circumstances.
“Like all of our front-line responders, their welfare and mental well-being is crucially important.
“The Health Secretary is acutely aware of the impact that mental health issues have on both individual staff and the ambulance service as an organisation.
“That’s why she met with unions and senior leaders to discuss the issues and agree on decisive action.”
The spokesman added: “We are working to increase capacity and reduce individual workload across the ambulance service – investing almost £900 million over the last four years and committing to training an additional 1,000 paramedics over the course of this Parliament.
“This builds on the 17.6% rise in ambulance service staffing over the last decade.
“Funding from Lifelines Scotland is being provided to deliver services in addition to existing sources of support offered by Scotland’s emergency services, including employee assistance and occupational health support, trauma counselling and pastoral care.”