Front line emergency workers are to receive tailored mental health support to deal with the impact of traumatic events.
The Scottish Government is committing £138,000 of funding for the Lifelines Scotland initiative to cover Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service.
The cash boost will provide online information and resources for emergency first responders, their friends and family as well as training courses on wellbeing and resources to help organisations embed mental health care in the workplace.
The move comes a month after a debate in Holyrood heard the testimony of Andy Cunningham, an ambulance worker with the Scottish Ambulance Service’s national risk and resilience centre. A constituent of Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, Mr Cunningham had described the mental pressure he and his colleagues feel - and told how he felt when he recently retrieved the body of a young woman at Leith docks.
MSPs heard how Mr Cunningham had "become numb to death" and how he "knew it wasn’t normal for one human to feel nothing for another". He had gone to a counsellor which "helped with my perspective so that in time I was able to return to work. But I still see that young girl’s body every day and will do for the rest of my life.
"Others aren’t so lucky. They are so traumatised by what they see, they are broken. They are broken for life but the lucky ones survive. Remember that one in four ambulance responders have considered ending their own lives. Dark thoughts to make the pain and trauma disappear. This cannot continue. We need to care for the carers.”
Today, visiting Springburn Ambulance Station in Glasgow, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Our emergency services work hard to keep people across Scotland safe every day and like all our NHS staff, their welfare is crucially important. They often face challenging and dangerous situations, which can have an impact on mental wellbeing.
“Extending the Lifelines Scotland programme will support the resilience and welfare of front line responder staff in blue light services across the country, to ensure they feel supported, informed and valued.”
Speaking on behalf of the emergency services, Linda Douglas, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development at the Scottish Ambulance Service, said: “Tens of thousands of people work for Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service, providing vital services to our communities, saving lives and making a real difference every day.
“However, their jobs can be physically, emotionally and psychologically demanding. Each of the emergency services take the mental health and wellbeing of their staff extremely seriously, and offer staff access to a range of support services and information.
“We all welcome the extension of the Lifelines Scotland initiative to frontline staff as this funding will enable us to boost the support available to emergency responders.”
The money will be used to offer tailored online resources for blue light staff and volunteers, including a new website and online learning module. There will also be information and resources for family members, as well as for retired responders on where to access help if they need it.
Lifeline leaders will be appointed within each service to promote resilience and there will also be training materials for those providing mental health support to emergency service workers and an evaluation of the intervention to assess its impact.
Mr Cole-Hamilton said he was delighted at the announcement. “I couldn’t be happier the Scottish Government has decided to back my campaign and is going to take the first steps to improving mental health provisions for our dedicated emergency responders," he said.
“People who work in the emergency services face harrowing and distressing scenes everyday as part of their job. They work tirelessly to help strangers in the worst situations, and must have confidence that if they need help that’s readily available as well. This funding settlement is a good start, but it’s not going to be a one off quick cash fix.
“The Scottish Liberal Democrats want to see the government set out a comprehensive strategy that will ensure that anyone caught up in, or witness to, a traumatic event is given the support that they need.”
Lifelines Scotland was initially established in 2016 by NHS Lothian’s specialist trauma service, the Rivers Centre, to promote the resilience and wellbeing of volunteer emergency responders.
Gill Moreton from the Rivers Centre for Traumatic Stress, and clinical lead for Lifelines Scotland, said: “The Rivers Centre team has worked with blue light colleagues for almost 20 years and are passionate about supporting the wellbeing of emergency responders.
“We are delighted to be extending Lifelines Scotland and are looking forward to working together to create wellbeing resources and training materials for all of Scotland’s emergency responders.”