Peer support saved my life

Murray MacGregor – Tuesday 24th November 2020 – 8.00am.

“I would be dead now if it wasn’t for SALS; they saved my life and have changed my life.”  The words of a paramedic after being helped by the Trust’s Staff Advice and Liaison Service, SALS. 

SALS is a peer support network in West Midlands Ambulance Service that provides signposting, advice and a listening ear to all members of staff.  They develop safe, confidential, non-stigmatising services for staff to turn to when they are struggling and need help.  It includes confidential advisors who are able to facilitate Social, Emotional, Educational Support meetings in the event of a particularly distressing incident.

Today, Elaine Weaver, who co-ordinates the scheme has been revealed as one of ten nominations who have been chosen as regional champions for the prestigious NHS Parliamentary Awards in ‘The Wellbeing at Work Award’.  The Awards give MPs and NHS leaders the opportunity to honour health and care staff who have helped to improve treatment for patients.

With the mental health of staff being recognised as a national imperative, the SALS team, which is co-ordinated by Elaine is helping around 1,000 staff a year. Their work includes supporting staff after a traumatic case, helping them cope with bereavement and work related stress. 

Elaine has worked for West Midlands Ambulance Service for 27 years as a Capital Accountant.  She became a SALS Advisor 10 years ago and took on the lead role three years ago.  SALS now boasts over 40 trained peer advisors who are available 24/7 for staff when they need that help. 

Elaine said: “My talents for problem solving and critical thinking, empathy and understanding of issues faced by ambulance staff have helped me mould the SALS team to the strong peer support team it is today.

“Building on experience, I have utilised connections to community charities and internal avenues to tackle problems faced by members of staff. I am proud to have forged connections with other Ambulance Services, holding a national peer support forum and assisted other services in the creation of their peer support network.

“I am particularly proud that I was nominated by a number of our SALS Advisers unbeknown to me.  In their words, it is my passion, caring nature and support for them and my colleagues across the Trust in their hour of need that they put me forward.”

Paramedic Debbie Styzaker, who is one of the SALS Advisors, added: “Elaine has almost single handily bought SALS into its current position.  She works endlessly for SALS and is always ready to help any of the advisors.  I have known her to be contactable morning, noon and night; she is a wonderful asset not only to us SALS advisors but also to WMAS staff.”

The Trust supports this work by providing facilities and training for the SALS team.  Recently, it also employed two mental wellbeing practitioners to support the work of SALS so that even more staff can access the wellbeing support that they need.

Trust Chief Executive, Anthony Marsh, said: “I am immensely proud that Elaine will be representing the Midlands in the national finals; she would be a very worthy national winner. 

“The work the SALS team do means many staff, who might otherwise have spent time off work dealing with issues, are helped at an early stage allowing them to come to terms with the issue and return to work in a more comfortable and confident manner.  Not only does that help the individual, it helps patients too.

“While the figures for the number of staff they help may seem high (1:7 staff accessing the service) they are reassuring to me, because I know that individuals are getting the support that they need as they deal with the challenges of the job and also their home lives.

“With the impact of corona virus on the mental wellbeing of staff still relatively unknown, it seems inevitable that the SALS team will only get busier over the coming weeks and months.”

Dr Nigel Sturrock, Regional Medical Director at NHS England and NHS Improvement in the Midlands, said: “I was impressed by the high standard of all entries from the Midlands and choosing between the dozens of teams and individuals who all go above and beyond, to go forward and represent our region, has been incredibly difficult. I wish our champions the best of luck in the national heats and will be rooting for them on the day.”

Elaine and the other regional champions will now go head to head with other winners from across the country to be judged by a national panel made up of senior leaders representing staff and patients, for the chance to win the prestigious national award which will be presented at a special ceremony in the House of Commons on the 7 July 2021.


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