British Red Cross memorandum

New initiative with British Psychological Society on volunteers. Ella Rhodes reports.

The British Red Cross and British Psychological Society have joined up in a move that will make the most of psychological expertise in the face of major incidents and disasters in the UK. This project will allow clinical and counselling psychologists to join a team of Psychosocial Reserve Volunteers (PRV) to assist the public after such incidents. 

The PRV project will allow accredited and professional psychologists to undergo specialist training with the British Red Cross so they can be called upon to provide support during and after crises, whether that is a house fire or terror attack. This support will help those directly affected by an emergency as well as people working for and with the British Red Cross.

The British Red Cross is the largest voluntary organisation in the UK that responds to crises. Head of the British Red Cross’ Psychosocial and Mental Health teams, Dr Sarah Davidson, said, ‘When we think about responding to people it is holistically, we think about people’s physical and mental health, and so the Psychosocial Reserve Volunteers project allows the Red Cross to draw on the expertise of the British Psychological Society to the benefit of people’s physical and mental wellbeing’.

Davidson explained she was inspired by a similar partnership between the Australian Red Cross and Psychological Society, as well the events of 2017 when the British Red Cross responded to terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire. She said, ‘Our psychosocial teams were really stretched in terms of capacity in 2017 and I think we could’ve done so much more had we had a Psychosocial Reserve Volunteer programme in place. I think in one respect it was an awareness of how much more we could do if we had the right people and secondly it was an awareness of how many volunteers wanted to be used but were not known to us’.

In times of national crisis Davidson said she is often contacted by psychologists who would like to help out. ‘It’s always really appreciated, but the reality of matching up these offers of support with people who need it in that moment, especially at a time of crisis, is very complicated. The Psychosocial Reserve Volunteers programme means we will have a pool of experts who are already offering their help and can be utilised much more quickly in their local area in an emergency. It is a real bonus for us to have the British Psychological Society on board to help us get the right people.’ 

The CEO of the British Red Cross Mike Adamson, and CEO of the BPS Sarb Bajwa, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to bring the PRV project into effect this spring. Adamson said the British Red Cross was proud to be partnering with the BPS to launch the PRV project in its 150th anniversary year. ‘Supporting people’s mental and social wellbeing during and after a crisis is so important for people to be able to recover and rebuild their lives. The current coronavirus pandemic has highlighted more than ever that we need to be able to scale up our psychosocial support during a crisis, so this is a very welcome step at a critical time.’

Bajwa said: 'I want us to emulate this and work closely with other organisations on providing the best possible support to NHS staff and other key workers following the coronavirus crisis.'

Psychologists who would like to become a PRV should be HCPC-registered counselling or clinical psychologists who are chartered members of the BPS. See the BPS website for further information.

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