South Central Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SCAS) and South Central Ambulance Charity have developed a pioneering four-part package of support for staff and volunteers to help overcome the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Projects include a Long COVID rehabilitation programme, which consists of cognitive behavioural therapy (talking therapy), exercise classes and mindfulness sessions, and a dedicated resilience programme which involves training staff as practitioners to identify and manage stress in colleagues.
The Trust will also partner with specialist bereavement charity Cruse and bereavement training counsellors to co-design a comprehensive support package to help staff and volunteers processing the loss of a patient, colleague, friend or a member of their own family.
In addition to this, SCAS will provide mental health first aid training to groups of staff and volunteers to assist their colleagues but also to enable them to better support patients who have mental health issues and have greater awareness of their needs.
The programme of initiatives has been made possible through £100k funding from South Central Ambulance Charity via a grant from NHS Charities Together designed to help trusts with staff recovery and resilience.
SCAS and its 5,700-strong staff and volunteer workforce provides emergency and urgent care to more than four million people across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire and Oxfordshire, as well as patient transport to a further two million across Surrey and Sussex.
More than 700 staff at SCAS have been off work with COVID during the pandemic and Long Covid has affected a number of staff, with more than 30 currently off work and a further 13 on alternative duties.
As this long-term condition is new and there are many variations in the symptoms each person experiences, treatment and support available to staff in the community is variable so SCAS has developed a bespoke service to support staff with their return to work.
The Long COVID rehabilitation programme has been designed in collaboration with occupational health provider Team Prevent and offers six weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy to help identify and overcome mental challenges, pulmonary and functional exercise rehabilitation, relaxation activities and homework to supplement the course.
The resilience programme, known as Sustaining Resilience at Work (StRaW), has been developed with psychological health consultancy March on Stress and will be used to detect and prevent work-related mental health issues and boost the psychology of the workforce.
It is estimated that around 25% to 30% of all sickness days taken in ambulance services are due to stress, anxiety or depression, with between 5,500 and 6,500 days lost to stress at SCAS during 2019-20 and 2020-21.
The StRaW programme will enable teams of practitioners to support and improve the mental health of colleagues through planning, guidance, signposting and, where appropriate, effective mentoring.
Lisa Pickard, Health, Wellbeing and Engagement Manager at SCAS, said: “Like most NHS organisations, SCAS has been hugely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in many forms and with far-reaching consequence across our service and our workforce.
“Frontline operational staff and volunteers working closely with patients changed their living arrangements to safeguard vulnerable members of their own families and staff have had to cover increasing levels of sickness and an increasing demand for patient care.
“Others had to go back to front-facing patient care and away from other roles and volunteers over 70 were stood down for a long period of time at the start of the pandemic, while for other staff working from home has become the norm and for some this has been a difficult adjustment.
“However, they have continued to work tirelessly to support patients in our communities and these important interventions will help to ensure our staff can all get back to full health, full strength and receive the support and attention they need to enable that to happen.”
Vanessa Casey, Chief Executive of South Central Ambulance Charity, said: “We are delighted to have secured £100k from NHS Charities Together to help provide this essential package of support for our staff and volunteers.
“We know from speaking to colleagues right across the organisation how important it is to do what we can to aid workforce recovery from the pandemic and to ensure these programmes remain in place to protect the health and wellbeing of staff and volunteers and, in turn, benefit patients.
“The charity is proud to have already introduced additional training and new cohorts of volunteers in new roles over the past two years which have significantly enhanced patient care as well as workforce wellbeing so we want to say a huge thank you to our supporters for their generous donations of both time and funds.”
Ellie Orton OBE, Chief Executive of NHS Charities Together, said: “As the national, independent charity caring for the NHS, we were delighted to work with South Central Ambulance Charity to make these valuable initiatives possible. We believe they will provide an important benefit for NHS staff and patients living in the region, including many of those impacted by COVID-19.
“Thanks to the incredible support from the public for our COVID-19 Urgent Appeal, this funding can now make a much-needed difference to the NHS as it seeks to recover from the pandemic. We look forward to continuing our work with South Central Ambulance Charity and the network of NHS charities across the UK to help the NHS go further for all of us.”