Prince William worried about strain on UK emergency workers

In this image provided by Kensington Palace shows a video call on Jan. 13, 2021 with Britain's Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, bottom of screen, and, top row from left, Carly Kennard and Jules Lockett, both of London Ambulance Service, Conal Devitt of Formby Primary Care Network and Manal Sadik, Associate Director for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and Widening Participation at Guys and St. Thomas Hospital. Center row from left, Phil Spencer from Cleveland Police, Tony Collins, Just 'B' volunteer helpline call handler and CEO of North Yorkshire Hospice Care, and Caroline Francis, Just 'B' helpline support worker and nurse at North Yorkshire Hospice Care. The royal pair spoke with frontline workers and counsellors about the mental health impact of the COVID-19 crisis for those working on the frontline, and why it is vital that they are able to reach out for support at such a critical time. (Kensington Palace via AP)
DANICA KIRKA
·2 min read

LONDON (AP) — Prince William says he is concerned about the mental health of U.K. ambulance drivers, police officers and other first responders who are being exposed to extraordinary levels of trauma and death as coronavirus cases soar.

William, a former search and rescue helicopter pilot, told emergency workers on a video call that they must not be afraid to ask for help despite their inclination to help others first.

“I fear…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 impact for quite some time,’’ William, the second in line to the British throne, said on a tape released late Friday.

Britain’s health care system is staggering as a more contagious variant of the coronavirus coupled with cold, wet winter weather puts unprecedented strain on hospitals and emergency workers.

The London Ambulance Service says it is receiving about 8,000 emergency calls a day, compared with 5,500 on a typical busy day. But the strain is being felt across all emergency services. Hundreds of firefighters, for example, have volunteered to drive ambulances to ease pressure on beleaguered services.

The surge in infections across the U.K. has pushed the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 to a record 37,282, more than 70% higher than during the first peak of the pandemic in April. Britain has reported 87,448 coronavirus-related deaths, more than any other country in Europe and the fifth-highest number worldwide.

Eleven months into the pandemic, the pace is taking a toll on the men and women who are first to respond to calls for help.

But many emergency workers aren’t taking advantage of counseling and other support programs because they are too focused on responding to the crisis, said Phil Spencer, a police inspector who coordinates well-being programs for the Cleveland Police force in northeastern England.

“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,” Spencer told the prince and his wife Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge.

William and Kate have made ending the stigma attached to mental health issues a focus of their charitable work.

As the couple chatted with emergency workers and counselors, William shared his own experiences of working as a helicopter pilot for the East Anglian Air Ambulance.

“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?’’ he said. “And you see the world in a much more, slightly depressed, darker, blacker place.”

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