NHS adopting military trauma techniques for coronavirus fight

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The NHS is adapting trauma support techniques often used in military settings for use on the frontline of the coronavirus crisis, in the belief that staff could be experiencing trauma comparable to that seen on the battlefield.

Charity Help for Heroes said long-term support needs to be put in place for health staff battling the coronavirus, and has been developing a package of resources specifically designed for doctors and nurses, especially those working at the Nightingale hospitals.

James Calder, a senior clinician at the Nightingale Hospital at London’s ExCeL, who also has a military background, said: “The stress for our nurses and doctors treating incredibly sick patients may be compounded by a feeling of vulnerability by those working in roles that are out of their previous area of expertise. This, combined with the need to wear personal protective equipment which restricts the normal methods of communication, has necessitated enhancements to existing staff welfare models and increased awareness of the importance of mental health support.”

This is a conflict situation and we have to make sure we care for the carers,” – Carole Betteridge, Help for Heroes

He said Nightingale workers have borrowed a technique used in many military settings, where staff are “buddied” up and encouraged to look out for each other during their shift.

“If you have eyes with each other when you first go on a shift, you introduce yourselves, and speak to each other after the shift. If they get upset, have a difficult time with a patient or a death, they sit down and have a cup of tea. It worked very well in the past in the military and it’s working very well here,” he said.

“It is hoped that the positive impact for troops mental health seen by the military when using TRiM [Trauma Risk Management – a peer support system using trained professionals] and ‘buddy’ systems may be adopted more widely in support of our front-line NHS staff. This is a great example of the transfer of skills from one profession to another.”

Help for Heroes has made its Field Guide to Self-Care available to NHS staff. The resources were designed for, and produced with input from, wounded military veterans, but the situations many NHS workers were dealing with “draw many parallels to those our veterans will have faced on the battlefield and beyond”, it said.

The guidance is broken down into three sections: body, emotion and mind.

Help for Heroes head of welfare and clinical services Carole Betteridge, who formerly ran a field hospital at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, told the Guardian: “There are so many parallels I can see between the military experience and what NHS workers are having to deal with. This is a conflict situation and we have to make sure we care for the carers.

“People in hospitals will want to be able to help everybody, to be able to save everybody, but sometimes that’s not possible, and it’s difficult to deal with. People always feel they could have done more.”

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