Amber Threapleton, Welfare Officer for West Mercia Police tells us how they have increased bereavement counsellors to help officers and staff through the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a workforce of 5000 keyworkers we expected that quite a few of our staff would experience COVID-19 related bereavements within their families and perhaps amongst their colleagues.

We decided that if we added more specific bereavement counsellors to our existing employee assistance programme and external counsellor provision, we would be able to provide timely support for all our teams, whilst leaving our existing services available for ‘normal’ policing demands and not adding to the demands on the NHS or local charity bereavement services which the public would need. 

I am one of two Force Welfare Officers at West Mercia, with a therapeutic background and I belong to a professional external group called ‘Counsellors Together UK’. To recruit additional counsellors I asked for anyone level 4 or above who has a professional membership or accreditation and training in bereavement counselling to express their interest on their national Facebook page, a closed group of over 6000 therapists. They would work on a self employed basis for our force to assist with COVID-19 telephone and virtual bereavement counselling. 

120 people put their name forward and from these we recruited 20 to work within our force. To facilitate access to them we set up a specific ‘COVID-19 Bereavement’ inbox where an individual or manager could refer an officer or member of staff for support. The welfare officers facilitate access to the bereavement counselling, authorising sessions confidentially and the HR officer deals with questions around the bereavement policy, death in service etc. All of this is communicated via a specific COVID-19 intranet page and updated on West Mercia’s Back Up Buddy app.

This has been really well received and worked well. Fortunately we haven’t needed to arrange a vast number of sessions, but we know it has freed up our existing external counsellors for cases of anxiety, depression, trauma and support for other activities such as resilience input and providing mental health support for those shielding at home. 

As for the other counsellors who offered their help I have recommended they get in touch with their local force. If you think your force could benefit from these counsellors please contact me via contact@oscarkilo.org.uk.