Supporting the mental health of ambulance first responders

Improving the health and wellbeing of the workforce is a priority area for UK ambulance services in their ambition to become employers of choice. At the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives (AACE), we seek to support our member trusts – all UK NHS ambulance services – in recognising and responding to the mental health needs of their staff.

By Anna Parry,Deputy Managing Director, Association of Ambulance Chief Executives

At our second Global Paramedic Leadership Alliance Employee Mental Health Summit in March, ambulance service colleagues from the USA cited Naomi Rachel Remen:

“The expectation that we can be immersed in suffering and loss daily yet not be touched by it is as unrealistic as expecting to be able to walk through water without getting wet.”

This is, oh, so true when it comes to the paramedic profession, as well as our staff in emergency operations centres responding to 999 and 111 calls and others who support the provision of ambulance service clinical care day in and day out.

“Different people need different inputs, supports and interventions at different times.”

Recognising and responding to our employees’ mental health needs happens on a multitude of levels – different people need different inputs, supports and interventions at different times. At the Trust level, occupational health and employee assistance programmes are available.

Training programmes with a specific mental health focus consider how employees can support themselves and their colleagues in being tuned in and responsive to their and others’ mental health needs. Campaigns such as ‘RUOK?’ have been rolled out at the organisational level, for example, in ambulance services in Scotland and London.

And at the national level, the ambulance workforce pages, developed by ambulance service representatives with NHS Employers and Unison, offer a resource for organisations and employees alike. Areas included are: engagement; tackling bullying; training for line managers focusing on supportive leadership and management behaviours; and a free digital mental wellness resource designed for the sector.

AACE has produced employee mental health wellbeing strategy guidance intended to help trusts develop a mental health strategy appropriate and fitting for their organisation. This guidance also addresses the issue of suicide considering what trusts can do in an attempt to reduce the occurrence of suicide, support other staff if a suicide occurs, and better assess the risk of suicide at specific times.

“Each ambulance service is on its own unique journey to improve the health and wellbeing of its staff.”

At both a trust and national level, there is also a firm commitment to signpost staff to other supports that may better meet employees’ needs at a specific point in time. The Ambulance Staff Charity (TASC) offers confidential, impartial and independent advice and access to a range of support services, such as mental health and bereavement support.

Since it was launched in 2015, Mind’s Blue Light Programme has had a significant impact upon mental health awareness levels and training and support provision within the sector. And, of course, Samaritans provides a 24/7 resource for everyone.

When supporting its member trusts, AACE is acutely aware that each ambulance service is on its own unique journey to improve the health and wellbeing of its staff. What is required in one area of the country may not be reflected in another.

Similarly, what one employee in mental health crisis or difficulty might need may differ considerably from that of another. Our approach is to seek to ensure employees are aware of all the places where potential support is available – in a quest to maximise the chance of at least one of those being the right and best place for a certain person at a given point in time.

Anna Parry, Deputy Managing Director, Association of Ambulance Chief Executives.

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