Ensuring emergency call takers don’t get 'compassion fatigue'
It’s well known that working within healthcare, whilst often intensely rewarding, can be incredibly stressful. Programmes like ‘999 What's Your Emergency?’ have highlighted the demands that ambulance crews face, but less well recognised are the challenges faced by emergency call takers. These staff have to be ready to deal with whatever comes their way. And they're expected to handle calls quickly, but with competence, compassion and respect.
So, it’s not surprising that research by mental health charity MIND found that call takers sometimes felt overwhelmed which can impact on their own wellbeing. MIND’s research found that call handlers often felt ill-prepared in dealing with callers experiencing mental health problems, describing this as one of the biggest challenges of the role. Call handlers sometimes have to stay on the line with callers experiencing suicidal thoughts for long periods of time, while waiting for a frontline response to arrive, and the research found that staff worried about making things worse by saying the wrong thing.
How one ambulance service is responding
It’s so heartening to see how one ambulance service is taking the issue of staff AND patient mental health seriously. South Central Ambulance Service has commissioned a series of training programmes which have included Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), Mental Health Champions in Telephone Triage, and Compassion@Work Training.
Here at Red Lotus Consulting we are delighted to be their chosen supplier, because we're a team with huge amounts of insight into the experience of public sector working, and we care PASSIONATELY about the health service. Our founder Claire Hunter is a nurse by background and has worked within the health service for many years. On the subject of looking after staff she says;
“If we want our workforce to care – about the work they do, about the people they serve and about their colleagues, then we must care for them. Genuinely care for them, in a way that is tangible and that permeates the bones of the organisation. We need to care about people in their best and worst moments, when they excel and when they make a mistake, when they’re nice to be around and when they’re at their grumpiest worst. This is how we build a genuinely compassionate workforce, that’s loyal, committed and that will go the extra mile when needed. A commitment to wellbeing doesn’t have to cost the earth, but it does have to be led by a senior team who are passionate and committed. It’s so easy to adopt a tick box approach, by training a few mental health first aiders here and there, but this is seldom enough. It needs to become part of the fabric of the organisation and this is where SCAS is excelling.”
A comprehensive programme focusing on mental health and wellbeing
As well as equipping staff with the skills needed to support each other through MHFA, SCAS has also focused on delivering a better service to patients by putting staff through Mental Health Champions in Telephone Triage training. The focus of this programme is to equip staff with the tools to be able to respond to those with mental health issues in a skilled, compassionate and non-judgemental way.
Here’s what a few SCAS staff had to say about the experience:
“Having completed the course I now feel more confident in helping patients that are going through a crisis. I’m hoping they’ll feel better supported and know we’re here to help them.”
“The facilitator was exceptional. Clearly very knowledgeable, engaging and clearly had a passion for the subject matter. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and have not stopped talking about it since.”
Compassion in the workplace
SCAS has also rolled out an innovative Compassion@Work Course which focuses on managing teams with compassion and high levels of emotional intelligence, in order to start creating the conditions for a highly engaged and loyal workforce. The next stage is for SCAS to work with Red Lotus Consulting in piloting Compassion@Work Circles. This involves groups of staff coming together to reflect in a structured and consistent way, on challenging client interactions. The aim is to offer a safe, skilfully facilitated environment in which to share stories and offer emotional/practical support to one another. This approach is based on the premise that allowing staff to articulate difficult situations using a structured method can help them grow and move on rather than developing ‘compassion fatigue’.
Feedback for Red Lotus Consulting
Debbie Diffey, Clinical Assurance & Training Manager who has been instrumental in developing SCAS’ wellbeing approach says: “It can be really difficult to get good student engagement and facilitator expertise when delivering mental health sessions. I am really pleased to be working with Claire and her team who have delivered engaging and innovative sessions. I am delighted with the staff feedback from those who have already attended training and the enthusiasm they have shown. I look forward to working with the Red Lotus team this year on the Compassion@Work Circles and hope this will assist us in maintaining and supporting the workforce. I really hope we can continue to offer more staff the Mental Health Champions Training this year that has been so enthusiastically received.”
The tide is turning in relation to mental health. The more confident and skilled we become in having conversations about emotional wellbeing, the less people will suffer in silence. To receive your free ebook on ‘5 Tips for starting a conversation about mental health’ click here. If you’d like to find out more about training or consultancy services for your workplace, contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
We'd love to hear your comments and to hear what your workplace is doing in relation to wellbeing and mental health, so don't be shy and put your comments below! And we'd also LOVE you to share this through your social media channels! Together we can make the workplace a happier place, where people THRIVE instead of just survive!