Frontline distress pilot helps 1000th person

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A unique pilot programme which aims to improve how we support people who present to emergency services in distress, recently helped its 1000th person.

The Distress Brief Intervention (DBI) programme is a ground breaking pilot project which has brought frontline emergency department staff, police officers, GPs and Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) paramedics together to provide connected compassionate support to people in distress.

The programme has two parts. Firstly, trained front line emergency staff help ease any patient/individual who is in immediate and sometimes overwhelming emotional distress. They then ask the person if they would like further support and if they agree, they refer the person to the new DBI service with a promise of contact within the next 24 hours to start providing further face to face support.

Kevin O’Neill, national DBI programme manager, said: “The DBI programme emerged from the Scottish Government’s work on suicide prevention and mental health strategies. 

“Those who have received the DBI support show their levels of distress have halved and report experiencing very high levels of compassion, and feel they are working towards their own goals.

“We felt it was important to recognise all the hard work that has went into developing the DBI programme, which has meant that over 1000 people have benefited from this compassionate, connected support at such an early stage.”

Lise Axford, senior charge nurse at University Hospital Hairmyres emergency department (ED) said: “People can often present at the ED with an emotional pain which does not require an emergency service response.

“It can be caused by factors such as relationship issues, loneliness, bereavement, money and housing worries and life coping issues. 

“Evidence shows these situations don’t always require specialist mental health services, but they do need some support.

“DBI now addresses this gap and while staff can and still do refer individuals who require specialist mental health and/or addiction services, they now also have this additional more appropriate option available to them.

“It’s fantastic to hear that those who receive the support now feel more able to manage their current distress and are more confident about managing any future distress.” 

Inspector Julie Robertson, the Police Scotland lead for the DBI pilot, said: “We’re delighted to be part of this fantastic programme.

“It’s been very well received by our officers who feel more equipped to support people in distress.

“They have been delighted to see that everyone who is referred for DBI support is contacted within 24 hours with 80 per cent going on to receive further support.”

Jill Fletcher from the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “Ultimately we hope the programme will help reduce the number of people presenting to emergency services as a result of distress by providing them with this additional support.

“It could also help us better identify mental health, social and substance misuse problems and reduce self-harm and suicide.”

The pilot’s success led to a visit by Rose Fitzpatrick, chair of Scotland’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group who met representatives from many of the partners, during Suicide Prevention Week.

The DBI approach is also being tested in some primary care settings, including out of hours, staff.

Photo captions

DBI 1: (l-r) Julie Robertson; Lorna Bruce, NHS Lanarkshire senior nurse mental health and learning disabilities; Lise Axford; Tracey Lochrie, Scottish Ambulance Service paramedic.


DBI North: Above group joined by (l-r) Constable Douglas Bain; Sergeant Adam Docherty; Lynne Macdonald, senior officer Health and Social Care North Lanarkshire; and Lisa Reynolds from Lifelink (one of the level 2 providers for North Lanarkshire.


DBI South: Group from DBI 1, joined by Anne Tweed; and Sean O'Rawe; both from Lanarkshire Association for Mental Health (DBI Level 2 provider South Lanarkshire)


DBI group: Representatives from University Hospital Hairmyres emergency department, Police Scotland, Scottish Ambulance Service, and North and South Lanarkshire level 2 providers are joined by Rose Fitzpatrick, chair of Scotland’s National Suicide Prevention Leadership Group (front, four from right).

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