Supporting patients and staff after a traumatic event

EHAAT AgustaWestland 169 Helicopter
In the aftermath...

Essex & Herts Air Ambulance, a charitable service in the UK, discusses the need to support airlifted patients and each other after a traumatic event

Whether they are helping patients with their recovery or coping with the memories of a difficult case, the Critical Care Teams crews from Essex & Herts Air Ambulance (EHAAT) aim to be as open as they can be. EHAAT Clinical Director Stuart Elms explains: “We try to foster a feeling of family and belonging. It’s not easy for every single team member to get this at first, but after a while, the team ethos and esprit de corps works and people accept that we are an organisation that genuinely cares about them.”

Airbase visits by former patients can be just as important for the team who attended them

Patient relations

Looking after each other effectively means the team can do their best for the patient.

For the last two years, Tony Stone and Adam Carr have been EHAAT’s Patient Liaison Managers (PLMs). This means that they assist patients with their recovery by helping them understand what happened after someone called 999 and guiding them towards appropriate support. 

Adam says the PLMs fill in the gaps for people who have had ‘the worst day of their life’.

“Most can’t remember that day, or the days leading up to that. That could be because of the incident or it could be because of the drugs and interventions we’ve performed that have taken away their memory. They ask questions that people wouldn’t think of. It may be something really small, but that small thing builds up and up and becomes really important to them.” 

Tony believes any help the pair can provide is worthwhile: “If we can make their journey and their recovery even one-per-cent better, then that’s a success.”

EHAAT PLMs Tony Stone (L) and Adam Carr (R)

EHAAT PLMs Tony Stone (L) and Adam Carr (R)

As well as helping patients, a visit from Tony or Adam can provide valuable feedback which helps EHAAT’s Critical Care Team ensure future care for patients is as good as it can be.

Adam says: “Even if they’re really complimentary about what we did, they can direct us as to how we can be better.”

Tony agrees that airbase visits by former patients can be just as important for the team who attended them: “Patients always come along with their families and they want to say thank you. Actually, I think the crew like to say thank you as well.” 

Physician support

As well supporting patients, EHAAT takes great care to monitor the impact of its work upon its clinicians. Stuart Elms comments: “We talk about our thoughts and feelings as part of our governance, every aspect of the mission is examined, the patient care is one part of it. How the team felt before and after is as important. Our pre- and post-shift briefs ask how we feel – are we ready to do the shift? It may seem strange at first to open up about your feelings, it may seem to be a sign of weakness, but we all join in and it engenders a sense of trust in the team. If we need it, we have a strong team around us. 

“Staff are TRiM (Trauma Risk Management) trained and can signpost others to help. We have a wonderful chaplaincy team that visit and are a confidential shoulder if needed. From the CEO down, we have an open-door policy. Clinical team members sit on the wellbeing team and can bring ideas to the table.

“We don’t get it right every time, so we will act on feedback and make changes where possible. An example of this is as we move to a 24/7 service. We are working to produce a shift pattern that helps our team wellbeing as well as provide the care to our patients.”

Taking care of the next generation

EHAAT’s Student Resilience Programme is designed to ensure that medical students on an elective placement are equipped with appropriate coping strategies and have access to help and support. Clinical Manager Laurie Phillipson says: “Because of the type of incident we target, the experience they will get on the helicopter in a few shifts could potentially take a paramedic or doctor several months or even years to acquire. But with that comes the potential to see incidents that will affect you on a personal level, and we need to do our best to prepare our students for that.

EHAAT’s Student Resilience Programme is designed to ensure that medical students on an elective placement are equipped with appropriate coping strategies and have access to help and support

“The programme includes a video, Resilience – One Team’s Trauma, a recreation of a real case which saw EHAAT tasked to attend an incident which was, unusually, described as ‘possible dead child’ rather than the more medical term “paediatric traumatic cardiac arrest.” The video (which you can view below) was created by former student Matt Walton to help others benefit from the kind of guidance he received.

Stuart Elms sums up the EHAAT approach: “All of us are fallible, if we are less critical of ourselves and others and more looking to solve problems together then we will learn together and not be discouraged. We have learnt that it’s ok to talk. It’s ok to ask for help. We are all one team.”