The Duke of Cambridge has spoken of his concern about the pressure faced by emergency workers during the coronavirus pandemic, saying his work as an air ambulance pilot showed him that being surrounded by trauma and sadness can make you see the world as a “darker, blacker place”.
Prince William shared his experience as part of a video call accompanied by the Duchess of Cambridge, talking to counsellors and frontline workers about what mental health support is out there for those working in the blue light services and within the NHS.
William and Kate’s charitable trust The Royal Foundation has partnered with NHS England, NHS Improvement and the Department of Health and Social Care to help fund Hospice UK’s Just ‘B’ support line.
NHS staff, social care workers, carers and all emergency services personnel can access the helpline to get support for anxiety, trauma and the impact of seeing a significant number of deaths.
After hearing from Carly Kennard from the London Ambulance Service who has lost her uncle to COVID-19 and her colleague Jules Lockett who described the anxiety that has been sparked by the pandemic, William said: “Something that I noticed from my brief spell flying the air ambulance with the team, is that when you see so much death and so much bereavement it does impact how you see the world.”
He added: “What really worries me about the frontline staff at the moment is that you’re so under the cosh at the moment, you’re so pressurised and you’re seeing such high levels of sadness, trauma, death that it impacts your own life and your own family life because it’s always there, you’re so drawn into it, which everyone is, it’s only natural.
“But that’s what I think a lot of the public don’t understand – that when you’re surrounded by that level of intense trauma, sadness and bereavement, it stays with you at home, it stays with you for weeks on end and you see the world as a much more, slightly depressed, darker blacker place.”
The increase in mortality rates in both hospitals and the community due to COVID-19 means many health and social care professionals and emergency responders are dealing with levels of death they will not have experienced.
Phil Spencer, Wellbeing Inspector for Cleveland Police, told the couple: “Police officers, like a lot of emergency services, we run towards danger, we run towards a terrorist attack, we run towards the pandemic and I personally think this is why police haven’t engaged as much as we should have or could have with Just ‘B’ because it’s like we don’t want to take anybody else’s valuable time away from that service so we’ll just get on with it.
“And perhaps further down the line, which really worries me when all this is gone, whatever this is, further down the line we’re going to have some broken police officers and emergency services staff because we’re too busy focusing on protecting the most vulnerable and communities. This is why initiatives like this couldn’t be better timed.”
The Duchess of Cambridge asked the group if there was a stigma around asking for support and if the helpline volunteers anticipated more people needing help.
Tony Collins, a volunteer on the Just ‘B’ helpline, and chief executive of North Yorkshire Hospice Care, said: “I think there’s something about reticence to call at the moment and also around calling when they feel they have space to start processing and reflecting on the experiences they’ve been through.
“The words I hear time and time again are words like exhausted, relentless and then so much death and everybody seems so anxious, everything seems to be that much harder.
“And I think NHS staff in particular often explain how distressed they’ve been not being able to spend the time and the quality time with patients and families that they needed to, that they wanted to, that they’re trained to and there’s often hurried conversations giving news either with masks on or over the telephone, the type of news that shouldn’t be given that way.”
The Just ‘B’ counselling and trauma helpline can be accessed daily between 8am and 8pm on 0300 303 4434.
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