UNISON welcomes greater commitment to ambulance staff mental health

Eastern ambulance staff will have greater support and training alongside earlier intervention to protect their mental health as part of a new action plan announced this week.

The action plan follows an independent investigation into the deaths of three East of England Ambulance Service Trust employees in a short space of time last November.

Independent investigator Christine Carter’s probe began in December and involved interviewing over 40 witnesses. It came up with 12 recommendations.

  1. The Trust should produce specific guidance on the management of serious incidents involving the death of a member of staff;
  2. Cross-reference new guidance for management of death in service serious incidents with on call systems and guidelines document;
  3. Cross-reference new guidance for management of death in service incidents with the Management of Serious Incidents Policy, making specific reference to serious incidents involving death of a staff member;
  4. Guidance for the welfare and management support of staff on sick leave should be included as an appendix in the Sickness Absence Policy (and Disciplinary Policy in relation to the rules of sickness absence applying when a person is suspended and on sick leave);
  5. The Trust should develop guidance for managers regarding supporting staff who are experiencing mental health problems (whether off sick or still at work);
  6. The Trust should develop training for managers in supporting staff with mental health problems – in partnership with specialist mental health professionals, building on the guidance developed under recommendation;
  7. The Trust should consider how it can contribute to and learn from the range of suicide prevention strategies and initiatives across its catchment area and incorporate suicide prevention into its strategic goals;
  8. The Trust needs to establish a programme of change and development to address sexual harassment and change the behaviours of staff and managers that enable it to thrive. This will require some facilitation and support for the management team to undertake this task;
  9. The Disciplinary Policy should be amended in relation to suspension of staff. The policy should include a clause reflecting the need to undertake a risk assessment at the time the decision to suspend a member of staff is made;
  10. The Trust should review its arrangements for first line management support in order to move to a model that provides front line staff with consistent and regular line management support;
  11. Senior Operational Managers (Deputy COO and Heads of Operation) should be reminded of their responsibilities under the Duty of Candour Policy to deliver the Duty of Candour message;
  12. The Trust should carefully consider the findings of all current investigations, together with this one to assess any common themes or consistent messages that would suggest the need for remedial actions and further organisational development initiatives.

Recommendations in full

Trust Action Plan

UNISON Eastern regional organiser Sam Older said: “We’re glad the East of England Ambulance Service is stepping up its support to staff, but it’s tragic that it took the death of three of its employees to take staff mental health more seriously.

“We’ve long pushed for better training and a more commitment to making sure managers effectively support staff.

“There are unavoidable emotional stresses that go with working in emergency services, but it’s up to managers to minimise these and make sure staff have the help they need – particularly as staff are busier than ever dealing with Covid-19.

“UNISON will continue working with the Trust to make sure these recommendations are implemented and staff welfare is at the centre of the ambulance service.”