The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been warned the nation faces dealing with “broken police officers and emergency services staff” too concerned with battling the pandemic to look after their mental health.
The comment came as William and Kate chatted with emergency responders and counsellors, and the duke shared his own experiences of seeing “death and so much bereavement” when an air ambulance pilot, and how it affected his world view.
William also revealed his concern for those on the front line of the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying he “really worries” about the effect on their lives of seeing “such high levels of sadness, trauma and death”.
The UK recently passed the grim milestone of more than 100,000 deaths involving coronavirus, according to official data.
Speaking during the video call on Wednesday, which also included counsellors from Hospice UK’s Just B bereavement support line, Phil Spencer, Wellbeing Inspector of Cleveland Police, told the royal couple: “I think police just get on with it.
“Like a lot of emergency services we run towards danger, run towards a terrorist attack, we run towards the pandemic, and I personally think this is why police haven’t engaged perhaps as much as we could have (with the counselling) at Just B, is because we don’t want to take anybody else’s valuable time.
“Perhaps further down the line when all this is gone we’re going to have some broken police officers and emergency services staff, because we’re too busy focusing on protecting the most vulnerable.”
Mr Spencer also described the NHS as “absolute heroes” but said officers were “seen as the villains sometimes – again can’t do right for doing wrong – having to put the fines out and lay down the law”.
The duke and duchess’ royal foundation has been providing financial support for Just B through its Covid-19 Response Fund.
Just B provides confidential and free-to-access bereavement and wellbeing support for NHS staff, social care workers, carers and all emergency services personnel who may be experiencing personal bereavement, anxiety, trauma or the impact of dealing with large numbers of deaths in their working lives.
William said about Just B: “I think people need to understand how you are normal human beings doing a brilliant job in a very, very difficult time and I hope this service gives people the outlet that they need.
“I fear, like you said, you’re all so busy caring for everyone else that you won’t take enough time to care for yourselves, and we won’t see the impacts for quite some time.”
The duke worked for the East Anglian Air Ambulance for two years before stepping down as a helicopter pilot in July 2017 to focus on his royal duties.
He has spoken about his air ambulance experiences in the past and, drawing on his knowledge, said: “When you see so much death and so much bereavement it does impact how you see the world.
“It is very interesting what you said about being able to see things in a different light.”
Referring to a comment made by a member of the London Ambulance Service he added: “I think you said about thinking everyone around you is going to die – that is what really worries me about the frontline staff at the moment, is that you are so under the cosh at the moment and so pressurised and you’re seeing such high levels of sadness, trauma, death, that it impacts your own life and your own family life because it is always there.
“You’re so drawn into it, which everyone is, it is only natural that would happen.
“But that’s what I think a lot of the public don’t understand, that when you’re surrounded by that level of intense trauma and sadness and bereavement, it really does, it stays with you at home, it stays with you for weeks on end, doesn’t it, and you see the world in a much more, slightly depressed, darker, blacker place.”
William, 38, and Kate, 39, both stressed it was vital that frontline personnel reached out for support at this critical time and the stigma surrounding seeking help for mental health issues must end.
Carly Kennard, an emergency call co-ordinator with the London Ambulance Service, told the couple she was supported by a Just B counsellor after “struggling” to deal with grief following the unexpected death of her uncle just before Christmas.
After first hesitating, she phoned a counsellor: “I called and I spoke to a lovely lady, I cried to the lovely lady and it helped.”
She added: “It’s still early, and I’m still not OK, but I know I’ve got the support networks around me to help.”