Senior blue light leaders make landmark mental health commitment

Emergency services across each of the home nations have committed to a uniform approach to supporting the mental health of their emergency responder workforce. In a UK first, The Chief Officers of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, National Fire Chiefs Council and Association of Ambulance Chief Executives have made a public pledge on behalf of their organisations at The Royal Foundation’s Emergency Services Mental Health Symposium, which took place on 25 November. In addition, HM Coastguard (as Chair of UK Search and Rescue, UKSAR) has also signed the Commitment and will be working with UKSAR members to embed its standards to support the wellbeing of their staff and volunteers.

The Symposium brought together 200 leaders from across fire and rescue, ambulance, police, and search and rescue as well as the Health Secretary Sajid Javid, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick and Mind CEO Paul Farmer.

The Duke of Cambridge said, “This is an unprecedented agreement, and it sends a powerful message to all emergency responders that mental health is, and will remain, a firm priority for the UK’s emergency services. It means that, for the first time, a uniform set of standards for supporting the mental health of emergency responders will be adopted and integrated into their workplaces. This is a crucial step in ensuring that the staff and volunteers who work so tirelessly for our nation can be properly protected.”

The Mental Health at Work Commitment for The Emergency Services means that every emergency service organisation in the UK will: prioritise mental health in the workplace by developing and delivering a systematic programme of activity; proactively ensure work design and organisational culture drive positive mental health outcomes; promote an open culture around mental health; increase organisational confidence and capability; provide mental health tools and support; and increase transparency and accountability through internal and external reporting.

Built on a framework from the 2017 Thriving at Work employment review, co-authored by Mind CEO Paul Farmer, the Commitment will be integrated into each organisation’s existing wellbeing strategies. They are accompanied by a Wellbeing Impact Assessment to apply to new and existing policies under review and tailored guidance informed by mental health charities and emergency service experts in recognition of the unique challenges faced by their workforces. The Commitment, signed by the Chief Officers on behalf of their members, includes a note welcoming future assessments by the respective independent oversight bodies to further improve mental health support.

This Commitment forms part of the Blue Light Together package of mental health support for the Emergency Services, announced on 25 November by The Duke of Cambridge. The Royal Foundation’s Blue Light Together programme of work has been supported by an Emergency Services Senior Leaders Board, working in partnership to deliver on recommendations from a research project commissioned by The Royal Foundation and published by King’s College London and the Open University in 2020. Convened by The Duke of Cambridge, the Board has been working closely with charity partners over the past year to identify solutions and share best practice to ensure that emergency responders and their families can access the advice and support relevant to the unique challenges they face.

Supporting the Commitment, further measures announced today under the Blue Light Together include:

The ‘Blue Light Together’ resource website

Providing blue light workers, their friends, families and retirees with specialised information and advice tailored to their needs and experiences. The website includes specialised information and advice to help emergency responders with mental health, real-life stories and tips from colleagues working in the field, and guides for employers so that they can support their teams with their wellbeing. It has been produced in partnership with Mind, The Ambulance Staff Charity, Police Care UK and The Fire Fighters Charity and has been developed to build upon the work being carried out across the UK. The platform will complement the Lifelines Scotland website, which provides support to the emergency responder community across Scotland.

Network of Emergency Services Therapists

Working in partnership with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), The Royal Foundation is funding the creation of a directory of therapists who have experience of specialising in addressing the complex mental health needs of emergency responders and will be made available to all those in need of support. Working alongside the BACP, the therapists will be offered ongoing peer support and continuing professional development to ensure they can provide the best possible care to emergency responders. This will be accessible via the Blue Light Together website.

Blue Light Together

This week also saw the launch of an anti-stigma campaign by leading mental health charity Mind, funded by a grant from The Royal Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund. The UK-wide campaign, broadcast at the symposium, aims to empower emergency responders to open up about their mental health and seek support, and includes signposts to Blue Light Together. The campaign will run throughout November.

Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said, “The wellbeing of our officers is a priority for all police chiefs, as we know that policing is by its nature a stressful job, and that officers are exposed to some of life’s most challenging situations on a daily basis. The work being done by The Royal Foundation, led by the Duke of Cambridge, is of the utmost importance and we are proud to contribute to it. Such partnerships allow us to make great strides in changing attitudes towards mental health in society, and provide faster and more effective support for those who need it the most.”

Mark Hardingham, Chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said, “NFCC is proud to be signatories to the Mental Health at Work Commitment. This supports our national programme of work to assist fire and rescue services as they seek to provide the best possible support for those who suffer with mental health issues. We want to ensure that fire services have great prevention programmes alongside staff having access to the best possible support when they need it most. We are grateful to The Royal Foundation for bringing together emergency service leaders to work in partnership and create lasting change.”

Daren Mochrie, Chair of the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives, said, “Our staff are our most valuable resource and by the nature of their role, their physical and mental health can be affected. Frontline clinicians, as well as those handling 999 calls, put aside their own personal concerns to respond to highly pressurised, emotional and physically challenging situations as they save lives and care for patients. With the support of this new Blue Light Together initiative, led by the Duke of Cambridge and the Royal Foundation, we hope that this will encourage more leaders and staff in UK ambulance services to speak up about their mental health.”

Peter Mizen, Chief Coastguard for HM Coastguard, said, “Everyone associated with Her Majesty’s Coastguard is incredibly proud and honoured to join our emergency services colleagues in signing and supporting this incredibly important Mental Health at Work Commitment. The emergency services community selflessly serve and protect the public with distinction day in, day out and it’s vital that we all come together to honour this pledge. Ensuring the mental health and wellbeing of HM Coastguard’s hard-working staff and dedicated volunteers across the UK is a key priority, and we will always promote and drive the very best positive mental health outcomes and experiences within our organisation. Moving forward, UK Search and Rescue (UKSAR) will work with the Royal Foundation to promote wellbeing and good mental health in the wider UKSAR community and its volunteer organisations.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said, “It’s great to see so many senior leaders across the emergency services taking proactive steps towards creating mentally healthy workplaces by engaging with The Mental Health at Work Commitment. Our latest research found that seven in 10 blue Light staff and volunteers reported a worsening of mental health since March 2020. Coronavirus has made emergency responders’ roles even more demanding, as they face making more difficult decisions, dealing with death, bereavement and concerns about becoming unwell. We’re pleased to be involved with this timely Symposium – as well as providing support through Mind’s Blue Light Programme.”