Tracie McKelvie, Occupational Health Senior Manager from Dyfed Powys Police gives us an insight on how her team have been working through the Coronavirus outbreak.

Our people are simply our biggest asset and its vital that they are looked after. We’re a non-perishable commodity, yet in today’s current Public Health crisis, we’re not only faced with the uncertainty of an invisible ‘presence’ that has penetrated life as we know it, but we as Occupational Health (OH) clinicians are also trying to ensure the health and wellbeing of our working communities, whilst striving to keep ourselves and each other safe in the process!

During the Coronavirus pandemic we have had to work and respond in quick time in order to ensure as best as possible, that our people are safe and protected in their line of duty; protected from a biological hazard that currently is not yet fully understood. With statistics showing that almost a fifth of police officers experience symptoms of PTSD it is important that we get it right. As specialists in our field, we have to be competent. However, is clinical competency enough? In order to gain trust and respect, and to achieve a revolving door within our service, we must also be able to connect showing compassion and understanding, with a kind, non judgemental and empathetic persona towards those who need us.

In ordinary times, our OH department is busy and vibrant with a high volume of people visiting on a daily basis. In addition to our clinical function, we provide a safe space for Officers and Staff to come and talk about their feelings and how this may be impacting upon their health. We are not only clinically competent; we also have softer skills such as compassion, empathy and understanding, and always utilise these skills in order to undertake a holistic biopsychosocial assessment of health.

During our current climate, and what is fast becoming known as our ‘new norm’, I am proud to voice that we are able to continue to provide our services, but with a difference. With the exception of not undertaking clinical tasks, such as lung function and hearing tests, we are able to continue to offer our full suite of OH services by adapting the way in which we work. We are offering remote services and we have been able to extend our support out side of core hours. We continue to liaise with other treating specialists, to ensure a connected care pathway, and technology allows for visual interaction. We do however need to consider the availability of some of our support staff, who have returned to the front line in order to support our NHS.

There is no doubt that we will be playing catch up with the backlog of the hands on clinical work and we are already planning for this, however, we do need to consider a predicted aftermath to this unprecedented situation where the persistence of exposure to uncertainty, illness and loss of life could well result in the development of symptoms of PTSD.

For our people, while we are already making a difference in response to COVID-19, there will inevitably be lessons learnt. With this in mind, we will continue to listen; to adopt a collaborate approach to ensure a consistent care pathway in supporting our employees.

For myself and my team, we have access to specialist support, which is vital as we are working tirelessly to try to reach out to as many people as possible. We’re communicating on a daily basis with our staff to provide support to them, their families and to their managers. We listen intently to the challenges that they and their loved ones face. We absorb wholeheartedly our people’s description of events – descriptions to the real threat to life in their line of duty, to the real fear and anxiety that they are feeling, and to when they or their loved ones are unwell. We are scared for our health care workers and for ourselves, and for our own families. We listen out for scientific developments and government updates in the hope that we can be assured that this pandemic will be beaten, soon. We are also determined and we won’t stop caring, and we won’t stop supporting. It’s just the way we are. We are ALL in this together!