21st Nov 2019

London’s Air Ambulance Charity has partnered with Child Bereavement UK (CBUK) to deliver a package of bereavement support training for emergency air ambulance crews, doctors and paramedics.

The training programme has the support of HRH The Duke of Cambridge, our 30th Anniversary patron, who has shared a video message of support for the initiative. Scroll down to see the video in full.

There are 21 air ambulance services in the UK, all of which are charities that treat the most critically ill or injured patients. Each day, more than 100 crew members, doctors and paramedics will attend dozens of difficult and unpredictable missions to deliver emergency care in life-threatening crisis situations, from road traffic accidents to stabbings.

In 2018 London’s Air Ambulance treated 1656 patients, 12% of those patients will have such serious injuries they will die at the scene of the incident. In these cases, families need to be communicated with sensitively in a critical situation, yet air ambulance doctors and paramedics currently receive no specialist training in this area.

In the months following an incident, bereaved families will often request to visit our helipad to meet and thank the crews. This can also help their understanding of their relative’s final journey, and crews often report feeling unprepared to talk to families and revisit their experiences.

 

This training, designed and delivered by Child Bereavement UK, includes online and face-to face learning which will be rolled out to every air ambulance service in the UK. It includes a short online training course within the induction process for air ambulance staff, and a suite of bespoke, CPD-certified face-to-face training sessions to cover topics including:

- Breaking bad news in a crisis situation;

- Considering the impact on professionals of sudden and traumatic death, including the death of  a child;

- Understanding traumatic bereavement and supporting bereaved families.

The project came about after Frank Chege, Patient Liaison Nurse with our charity, contacted Child Bereavement UK in 2014 to explore ways we could work together and improve the support given to bereaved families.

Following this meeting, a scheme was trialled whereby families visiting the helipad to meet London’s Air Ambulance crew were accompanied by a Child Bereavement UK support practitioner. The scheme found that the opportunity to meet the people who attended to their relative was supportive in its own right.  It also highlighted a clear need to support all air ambulance staff in their work with bereaved families – both at the incident scene and on subsequent helipad visits.

A range of training needs were identified, pending a suitable funding source becoming available. The LIBOR 2017 funding round prompted Child Bereavement UK and London’s Air Ambulance Charity to renew discussions about this much-needed project, with funding from LIBOR fund subsequently awarded.

Dr Anna Dobbie, Barts Health Consultant with London’s Air Ambulance Charity, said:

“When our medical crews are called to a scene, we hope we can make the difference to a patient’s outcome. However our patients are so critically ill that not all of them will make it, despite our best efforts. Breaking bad news in the prehospital environment can be one of the biggest challenges that air ambulance doctors and paramedics face. We are acutely aware of our responsibility to relatives and loved ones in such difficult and emotional moments. 

The impact and long-lasting effect of such tragic news will affect the individuals involved forever and it is imperative that we aspire to deliver this in the best way possible. Up until now there has been little, if any, training on how to do this and we really hope that this training package will help to improve the pre-hospital care of bereaved relatives across the UK."

The Duke of Cambridge has outlined his support in a video message. His Royal Highness, who is Patron of Child Bereavement UK, and of London’s Air Ambulance Charity’s 30th Anniversary Campaign, references his time as a pilot with East Anglia Air Ambulance, the impact of responding to difficult incidents, and the need for training for air ambulance crews and sensitive support for bereaved families.

Here is a full transcript of The Duke of Cambridge's video address:

As Patron of Child Bereavement UK, and London’s Air Ambulance Charity’s 30th Anniversary Campaign, I am delighted that both organisations are working in partnership to roll out a package of bereavement training for air ambulance crews across the UK.

I know first-hand from my time as a pilot with East Anglia Air Ambulance that being on the frontline, witnessing death, injury, and families destroyed by grief on a daily basis, can have a hugely negative impact on the individuals involved. Having worked at the scene of traumatic instances involving children, it was impossible for me not to take on board the enormous sadness, and make the connection between the distressing events I had witnessed, and my own family. We are all human, with human emotions and vulnerability, and we are all affected at some level. The emotional impact of these experiences cannot be understated.

The specialist training that Child Bereavement UK is providing will give air ambulance crews, doctors and paramedics the tools and strategies they need to explore and manage the impact of their work on themselves as professionals. It will also help equip them with more confidence in providing support to parents and children in critical, emergency situations. Sensitive support also makes a huge difference to the families affected and their ability to begin the process of piecing their lives back together after being traumatically bereaved.

This partnership between London’s Air Ambulance Charity and Child Bereavement UK is a fantastic example of collaboration between two wonderful organisations supporting professionals and families affected by trauma, death and bereavement. I applaud these charities working together to make a positive difference, building resilience and improving outcomes for the air ambulance crews and the lives of the many families they touch.