Working in the safety critical world of air traffic control, NATS has a strong record in the provision of peer support (Critical Incident Stress Management – CISM) to colleagues across the business. This can be needed for a number of reasons, anything from a domestic incident which an individual may find distressing, to a significant operational event which could involve media and indeed global scrutiny.  This support is carried out by a volunteer team of 160 peer supporters who work all around the business. Some are air traffic controllers, while others are engineers or work in our corporate functions.

On a normal day, our CISM team are able to offer face-to-face support to colleagues across all of our sites – operational centres, airports and office buildings; in addition the CISM programme also provides a 24/7 support line available to all employees providing peer to peer support and mental health first aid to help reduce the risk of longer-term trauma. We are there to listen.

Right now, across the country, NHS staff and keyworkers are being celebrated for their heroic efforts as they are working hard to control the coronavirus outbreak. But during this time of strain and uncertainty, frontline medical staff are facing huge challenges themselves – including maintaining their own wellbeing and health – something that we are very conscious of at NATS.

As the number of flights across the UK has dropped dramatically, a lot of our employees have been put on furlough. With more spare time on our hands, we were honoured to be asked to assist the NHS fulfil their own employee support helpline and play our part.

In addition to the training they have already taken, a number of our CISM volunteers undertook more specialised training via video conference with a Peer Support Instructor who works closely with the NHS. This enabled us to upskill our team so we can help NHS staff with the types of trauma they are experiencing and that we need to understand. This was a hard-hitting session, ensuring we are all clear on the circumstances in which the NHS staff have been working, as well as learning some of the terminology they may use when speaking to us.

NATS NHS support volunteers now stand ready to assist our NHS colleagues and give psychological support in the coming months via a dedicated helpline. Anyone who requires further help will be signposted to other services ranging from practical and financial assistance through to specialist bereavement and psychological support.

NATS CISM training

These conversations with peer support volunteers are invaluable to help process traumatic stressful events and are proven to limit more significant trauma in the longer term.  I am so incredibly proud of all the peer supporters who have volunteered to go the extra mile and support our key workers on the frontline. We are so grateful to them all.

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