The Duke of Cambridge stressed the need for society to look after its blue light responders as he visited Northern Ireland to mark Emergency Services Day.
On a tour of the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s training college in Belfast, William thanked police officers, firefighters and ambulance crew members for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The visit had a particular focus on the mental health challenges many emergency services personnel face as a consequence of their pressurised and stressful jobs.
The duke spoke of his own experiences working with the air ambulance, and the mental strains that came with his role, as he took part in training workshops.
He highlighted the need to enhance support services and create a culture where people feel comfortable to talk about what they are going through.
We welcome The Duke of Cambridge @KensingtonRoyal as he marks Emergency Services Day in Belfast. Thanking first responders for their work and taking the opportunity to discuss the importance of #mentalhealth for those working on the front line👇📸 #999DayUK pic.twitter.com/ZOWvJ8QroY
— Northern Ireland Office (@NIOgov) September 9, 2020
During his visit to the college, William also met five-month-old Irish setter Tara, who has been trained to provide comfort to those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In a speech to an audience of blue light responders, the duke hailed their dedication during the pandemic.
“This has already been an extraordinary year,” he said.
“The months ahead will no doubt be uncertain and at points scary.
“But, thanks to the dedication and sacrifice of those of you working across the emergency services and in the NHS, I count myself and others in this country very fortunate.
“Your dedication is not only apparent when we are faced with a global pandemic.
“Each and every day, people from teams across the blue light community are called to the scenes of dreadful incidents.”
William highlighted the response of the emergency services to the recent stabbing attacks in Birmingham.
“But as you care for us in our time of need, so too must we ensure that we are there for you when you need it the most,” he added.
“We must ensure that you have the right support in place each and every day.
“I know first hand, that even in routine circumstances, those of you on the front line can face immense challenges that can naturally have a significant impact on both your physical and mental health.
“Firstly, it’s important that we recognise that.
“And secondly, it’s important that we do all we can to support you through it.”
Today is @999Day and we would like to say a huge thank you to our colleagues in @NIFRSOFFICIAL @NIAS999 and the search and rescue services who work with us tirelessly throughout the year to keep people safe #999Day pic.twitter.com/tSBWo5oQUp
— Police Service NI (@PoliceServiceNI) September 9, 2020
The duke recalled meeting PSNI officers during a visit with his wife Kate to Hillsborough Castle earlier this year. He referred to the unique challenges they face in policing the region.
“We were struck then, as I am now, by your steadfast commitment to helping others,” he said.
“You are a testament to the blue light community across our country, and I can’t thank you enough for what you do.
“At one point or another, each and every one of us will meet you or one of your colleagues, speak to you, be comforted by you and benefit from the care and protection you provide.
“Given what we ask of you, we must do all we can to look out for you, and to help you to look out for each other.”
William’s trip to the region came a day after he convened the first meeting of a new body established to improve mental health support for members of emergency services across the UK.
The Emergency Responder Senior Leader Board, which brings together leaders from across all 999 organisations, will promote collaborative working to ensure all emergency responders receive the mental health support they need.
The board was established by the duke in response to a recommendation arising from a research project commissioned by The Royal Foundation in 2018 into the mental health and wellbeing of emergency responders in the UK.