Tracey-Jayne Watson, founder, East Midlands Ambulance Service staff support network

Published: 08/01/2004, Volume II4, No. 5886 Page 32

Why did you start the network?

I have been a frontline accident and emergency ambulance technician since 1995. In January 1998, I was involved in a road traffic accident while on duty and suffered serious injuries. I was off work recovering for several months, but after returning to light duties I found that I suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

I underwent months of specialist counselling and the treatment I received made me very aware that from time to time people need help to enable them to cope and a chance to talk about things no matter how trivial.

What had happened to me was no secret and I would receive occasional phone calls from people who felt they needed to talk to someone about a particular problem or nasty experience.

It was clear there was a need for staff in the service to have access to a listening ear. I felt that although occupational health schemes were in place, they were not always appropriate; some staff felt more comfortable discussing concerns and problems with someone on the same level as themselves.

We needed a group who were only a phone call away,24 hours a day.After discussions with human resources, about 30 staff who responded to an advertisement were trained in being 'listeners' for the network.

What kind of support did you get from management?

The service was supportive in helping to set up the network and provided funding for the training, particularly East Midlands Ambulance Service trust HR assistant director Denise Langley. Setting up the network has been hard work and I could not have done it without her help and support.

How is the network progressing?

Now established for just over two years, in the last quarter it got more than 70 calls.There are 25 people on the network and we are starting to look for more.We have also recently arranged refresher training for all our volunteers.Nobody is paid; it is all voluntary, though we get expenses.

All our volunteers have a lot of experience and if necessary we refer callers to the service's occupational health scheme. It is run by staff for staff, it is free and it is available 24 hours a day.

What happens next?

I hope staff will continue to use us over the next year. I have also been approached by other ambulance services which are interested in the network and setting up a similar scheme in their own organisation.