Air ambulance supports mental health and wellbeing of critical care teams

With the current Coronavirus pandemic predicted to have a long-lasting impact upon health and care workers across the globe, the measures that Hampshire and Isle of Wight Air Ambulance put in place a year ago to support the mental health and wellbeing of their Critical Care Teams are as important as ever.

In 2019, the life-saving Charity became the first Air Ambulance charity in the UK to launch an online wellbeing programme that takes a proactive approach to monitoring and enhancing the mental health and wellbeing of their Critical Care Teams. The online programme has been nominated for three awards and was recently the winner of the Hospital Heroes Award, celebrating the outstanding achievements of individuals and teams working within University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.

At the heart of the programme is a wellbeing website, designed to give the paramedics, doctors, pilots and dispatch assistants who make up the Critical Care Teams, the tools to monitor their own mental health by completing an anonymous monthly survey. Supported by the Charity, any team member who is in difficulty has immediate access to a dedicated clinical psychologist and specialist in trauma support, already working with clinicians in the Emergency Department at University Hospital Southampton. This is in addition to the services already funded by the Charity and provided in close partnership with Occupational Health specialists at University Hospital Southampton.

Working on the front line of pre-hospital emergency care, the Charity’s Critical Care teams face demanding and stressful situations every day. Since the start of the current pandemic, many of the Charity’s paramedics have been working additional shifts in the Emergency Department at University Hospital Southampton. In addition, the teams have had to quickly adapt their way of working in response to the infection risks posed by the virus, and they currently attend incidents dressed in full personal protective equipment (PPE).

Alex Lochrane said “Like our Service, our Online Wellbeing Programme is evolving all the time and, crucially, it puts the best tools to sustain and protect their psychological health and fitness into the hands of the clinicians themselves. The addition of dedicated access to support from highly experienced mental health professionals is critical to ensure that they are both physically and mentally prepared for the, often life-changing, incidents that they attend on a regular basis.”

HEMS doctor, Matt Kerton, who has been with the Charity for three years and led the programme for HIOWAA, commented “This year, Mental Health Awareness Week has an added poignancy and I feel proud that, thanks to our Online Wellbeing Programme, HIOWAA is in a position to provide their Critical Care Teams with the support that they need during these challenging times’.

When we emerge from the current pandemic, and as part of a sustained long-term approach to supporting their Critical Care Teams, the Charity also has plans to introduce reflective practice and to continue one to one support. Led by dedicated clinical psychologists, reflective practice will help teams make better sense of what they have seen and felt at the scene of an incident. The practice has been shown to help reduce the risk of serious illness, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).