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Ambulance bosses spend £156k over three years on counselling for frontline staff – HeraldScotland

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CRITICS have called for better mental health support for emergency workers after it emerged Scotland’s ambulance service spent more than £156,000 on counselling for frontline staff over the last three years.

Figures show ambulance bosses spent £55,372 in the last financial year – including £30,472 on “bespoke/specialist” help for struggling staff.

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The service said it takes the health of employees “very seriously”.

But Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesman Alex Cole-Hamilton insisted the figures demonstrated more needs to be done – and called on the Scottish Government to devise a “comprehensive strategy”.

He said: “Just last week the Health Secretary announced £140,000 funding to improve mental health support for people in the emergency services.

“While that’s a good start these figures show just how insufficient that funding offering truly is. That wouldn’t be enough for the ambulance service alone.

“People who work in the police, our accident and emergency rooms and the fire brigade encounter distressing situations every day. Sometimes passers-by are called on to be the first responder just by chance.

“All of these people need to know that help is readily available to them after witnessing a traumatic event. The government needs to devise a comprehensive strategy so that no one is missed out.”

It comes after Mr Cole-Hamilton raised the issue of trauma recovery and support for first responders in Holyrood.

He highlighted the mental health struggles of his constituent Andy Cunningham after he retrieved the body of a young woman from Leith Docks.

Mr Cunningham, who works at the national risk and resilience centre, the Scottish Ambulance Service’s major incidents unit, said he was left feeling “numb and alone” following the incident.

He said the ambulance service is at “critical level” and warned the current funding commitments are not enough.

He said: “This needs to be taken seriously. It needs to be recognised that this is just the tip of the iceberg and it’s only now that we are getting people coming forward.

“There needs to be a very honest and open discussion with the senior management. There needs to be a change in culture right through the service.”

Mr Cunningham previously said one in four ambulance responders have considered ending their own lives, adding: “This cannot continue.”

He said one of his colleagues was forced to retire in his early 40s after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Figures released under Freedom of Information show the ambulance service, which has more than 5000 members of staff, spent £55,372 on counselling and specialist help last year – compared to £53,978 the year before and £47,260 in 2016/17.

It comes after the BBC revealed the number of paramedics signed off work with depression or stress soared by more than 40% in 2018.

A spokesman from the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “We know our staff sometimes face challenging situations which is why we provide access to a range of support measures, including counselling services.

“Our managers are also trained to identify the signs of stress in individuals and provide appropriate support both immediately after a stressful event and on a longer-term basis.

“We are absolutely determined to do all we can to support good mental health and wellbeing, which is why have introduced a range of additional initiatives, including but not limited to, peer support groups across all regions, additional support for colleagues suffering traumatic stress, digital apps, enabling staff to access mental health support at times which suit them and access to specialist resources offered by Lifelines Scotland.”

Earlier this month, the Scottish Government announced £138,000 of funding for the Lifelines Scotland initiative, providing tailored mental health resources for frontline emergency staff. A Government spokeswoman said: “We value the tremendous job our ambulance service staff do in what can be exceptionally challenging circumstances. Like all of our frontline responders, their welfare and mental wellbeing is crucially important.”

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