Size: 10,000+ staff
Industry: Health Care and Social Assistance
A core activity for St John is providing Ambulance Services throughout Aotearoa. The Peer Support programme offers confidential, professional, safe and empathetic support to our frontline staff from trained colleagues who understand the unique work ambulance staff do within St John. Peer Support Officers (PSO) are often the first line contact for distressed or troubled staff due to the nature of work and personal demands. Peer Support is a form of psychological first aid and can refer staff to other internal or external supports when deemed appropriate.
*** Note to judges: St John advised that they had trouble using the online form. They submitted an email entry containing several paragraphs not expressly tied to fields in the entry form. We have done our best to place responses in the relevant fields, but their original submission can be viewed from page 4 of the attached support document. *** The peer support program at St John began in 1993 as a result of a helicopter crash over spaghetti junction, killing police staff. St John staff attending knew the deceased and the need for Peer Support was identified. Over that time, the program was not always a priority and recruitment were of those who were willing to do the job and training was basic. Since 2018 a reinvigoration of the project began and the recruitment, training and conduct of the program has been up graded to a high standard, the program also provides vital feedback about the wellbeing of our people.
Background on situation and opportunity
The St John Peer Support Programme has been in place for 27 years in a 136 year organization in New Zealand. The Peer Support Programme has over the time remained very stagnant and has been reactionary (i.e. in the times of Major Incidents example earthquakes/volcano eruptions/ terrorist shootings), it would be a focus and resources temporarily dedicated to support its activity. However, with the passage of time post the incident this focus was lost as other priorities arose.
Two years ago, a reinvigoration of the Peer Support Program begun. This included recruiting a dedicated lead into the position, with the support of Ambulance Operations and the Psychological Wellbeing Manager. In collaboration a Peer Support training program was established based on the Queensland Ambulance model. In 2020 supervision was provided for current and newly recruited Peer Supporters and the induction and interview process became more rigorous. Over the last year recruitment has been a big driver, with the future aim of having 200 Peer Supporters on the ground. The Peer Support program has been one of the cornerstones of psycholgocal support for our frontline staff.
Through the collaboration with and mentorship of Queensland Ambulance Service, we have delivered our reinvigorated pilot Induction Training based on their course in November 2019. This was delivered to 23 Peer Support Officers with great success and outcomes. The training in the words of a participant “is unlike any other”, as it uses experiential learning through the reflection of ones own lived experiences. As Ambulance personnel this has a huge impact on the ability to empathize with the colleagues in providing a safe and listen environment to confide in. The use of skills taught on the course has improved the quality of Peer Support contacts with staff and this has already received positive feedback (gathered in staff surveys). There is a growing awareness for the need to support staff within Ambulance Operations. Increasing international evidence and research into the benefits of peer support programmes has supported this. The recent Beyond Blue – Answering the Call, research study found, within Ambulance services, Peer Support was the second highest sought out support service. 21,014 Australian police and emergency services volunteers, current and former employees across a range of roles, ranks and locations participated in the survey. Of those surveyed, over 94% of respondents found the interaction moderately or extremely helpful (2018). Therefore, the St John Peer Support Programme requires further resourcing and support to reach a greater level of effectiveness.
Engagement and communication
The reinvigoration of the Peer Support Programme has been communicated widely within St John and this has allowed for staff to reach out to seek support themselves. This has been a change in the culture to seek assistance for Mental Health and wellbeing within the organisation. Having a colleague who has the lived experience is hugely beneficial. In the St John nationwide feedback surveys the engagement scores from staff with the Peer Support Programme has risen steadily. Often the first-line contact for distressed staff due to the nature of their work and personal demands, Peer Support is a form of psychological first aid and comes from someone with lived experience that truly understands and respond appropriately with support.
At the start of the reinvigoration of the St John Peer Support Programme we had 62 volunteer Peer Support Officers. The workforce has around 6,000 Emergency Ambulance Operations staff. This made the ratio of Peer Support Officer to Emergency Ambulance Operations staff is grossly disproportionate. This does not allow for span of appropriate support coverage. It is our goal to reach a ratio of 1 to 20 over the next 4 years and the reinvigoration in the past year has seen training delivered to 47 Peer Support Officers, and a recruitment drive which saw 19 new recruit Peer Support Officers. There are plans for an additional recruitment and training of 240 Peer Support Officers over an estimated 4 years. The reinvigorated Peer Support Induction Training is a 6 day live in course, where a maximum of 24 participants can be trained by a minimum of 6 facilitators (of which 3 must be Psychologists/Counsellors). This training requires ongoing skill maintenance through a refresher training every 2 years thereafter.
St John is a large and diverse organisation with many different areas, teams, and people supporting the community of New Zealand with Healthcare and associated needs. St John provides Ambulance Services to wider New Zealand except the Wellington Region using a combination of both Volunteer and Paid staff. In addition to this St John provides Community engagement initiatives like Community Health Transport services, Caring Caller, Friends of the emergency department, Therapy Pets, Community carers, St John in schools, St John retails stores, St John Youth, and a Maori Responsiveness Team. This means the Peer Support Programme reaches a wide range of diverse staff and through the Peer Support Programme all staff are treated the same and have access and use of a one standard support. Ensuring that a wide range of staff are selected through recruitment we are assured of maintaining inclusion of all staff. The 6 day live in training course covers what it means to be a Peer Support Officer and helps attendees to develop skills for supporting our colleagues affected by work and personal issues associated with emergency services stressors. They learn how to help support all staff dealing with grief, loss, and trauma, as well as learning skills around suicide prevention and building personal resilience.
Innovation and creativity
Data on the activity of Peer Support was being gathered before we launched the reinvigorated Induction training. In the full calendar year (2018) prior to the launch we had recorded 185 Peer Support contacts with staff in the previous Peer Support Programme. We launched a very innovative way to report contacts done by our Peer Support officers using an online web-based tool which ran on the clinical platform that staff already used. This made it easy to use and very quick to complete reporting. Post the pilot induction training, we saw a surge in Peer Support contacts. In the last year 2020, there were 1382 Peer Support contacts. This provides us a plethora of information, with drill downs into the demographics as well as the trigger points and support initiated for our Emergency Ambulance Operations staff seeking support through the revised Peer Support Programme. As an example - 71.21% (821) of the 1125 Peer Support contacts needed no further referral. This means the Peer Support Programme was effective as a Psychological First aid tool . Further 18.73% (216) only needed a follow up Peer Support contact session, which meant the psychological supports through the Peer Support Programme were effective for 89.94% contacts. This means the staff who really needed this higher level of psychological support (6.68%) were triaged appropriately by the Peer Support Programme. This is a very effective use of achieving the right care, at the right time. The ability to see and report on the work done by our Peer Support Officers was like never before. This gave clarity on the direction of the Peer Support Programme, but also allowed us to benchmark activities and set key performance indicators & measurable outcomes for the productivity of the Peer Support Programme.
Supporting materials (optional)
Photograph of key staff (optional)
Link to video (optional)
Dion Rosario, Peer Support Lead (St John)
027 839 4908 • [email protected]
Helen Sadgrove, Head of Health, Safety and Wellbeing (St John)
021 833 377 • [email protected]