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Healthwatch Essex to Evaluate Trauma Cards, Empowering Survivors

Launched in November 2022, a new initiative to support trauma survivors in healthcare settings across Essex is being evaluated for ways that they have helped people.

Trauma cards launched in 2022

Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassador Group created ‘Trauma Cards’ to empower individuals who have experienced trauma to communicate more effectively with healthcare professionals.

The cards are designed to be handed to a healthcare professional when a cardholder finds themselves in a triggering situation, to enable them to get the support they need.

The card has a QR code which, when scanned, provides more information to the healthcare professional about what the individual is experiencing and how best to help them. The cards have been seen in use in GPs surgeries, hospitals, dentists and a wide variety of environments where people access health or care support.

The Trauma Ambassador Group exists to help improve health and care environments for people who are living with the effects of trauma. The group’s members have all experienced trauma, with a wide variety of different causes – ranging from domestic abuse, sexual abuse, exposure to crime and bereavement. Trauma is considered very much an individual reaction and there is no exhaustive list of causes.

Trauma Film participants
Trauma Film participants, (left to right) Denise, Sharon and John with Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Michelle

Empowering survivors

The initial idea for the card was sparked by group member, 57-year-old John Wills from Brightlingsea, who is a survivor of child sexual abuse. John also brought knowledge from his later work as a therapist and discussion with other group members revealed that it was common to experience trauma being triggered in unexpected situations, such as at a dentist or during a health check.

John felt that services had not improved much since he first reached out for support, so he wanted to create the cards to make things better for others.

He said: “I carry the trauma card because I really need health professionals to understand that some of these situations are really quite difficult for me and make me very anxious. Sometimes there isn’t the opportunity to open the conversation up about this subject, so simply by handing over the card it starts the dialogue.

“I hope it will allow health professionals feel able to ask me what I need as a survivor of trauma. They forget just how traumatic and triggering some of these procedures can be for someone who has suffered trauma.”

53-year-old Denise Hills, from Tilbury, was also involved in the project. Due to her experiences of domestic abuse, she experiences anxiety in medical and social care situations. I find it very helpful – because of the anxiety I just shut down and can’t talk. Knowing I’ve got the card means I’m less likely to be triggered. It’s like that comfort blanket. It takes that stress off you,said Denise.

To show the card in action, John and Denise helped create a short film with Michelle Wilkinson, an Advanced Nurse Practitioner at Beacon House, Colchester.

See the trauma cards in action, to find out more visit: https://healthwatchessex.org.uk/trauma/

Michelle said she is really excited about the ways the card could improve services if professionals engage with the cards: “I know these cards will be very helpful to many of the people I see day to day. Often because of their background – domestic violence, abuse, war or veteran’s services – there may be sounds or noises that affect them in a way that we wouldn’t appreciate.

The card just gives us a heads up – an introduction that this patient might shut down within a certain situation. We can then use this to look at the website to give us tips and clues as to how to make the journey better for the patient. Things like offering a quiet area, double appointments, reducing distractions and sounds, may make this a more positive experience for our patients.”

A privilege to work with survivors

Sharon Westfield de Cortez, Information and Guidance Manager at Healthwatch Essex, founded the Trauma Ambassador Group to encourage people with lived experience of trauma to come together and shape health and care services in Essex.

She said, “It has been a privilege to work closely with the Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassadors to produce the trauma card, which is a resource that I hope will help the people of Essex who are living with the effects of trauma get better outcomes from their interactions with health, care and wellbeing services.”

“When trauma survivors have a bad experience in a health care setting, it can result in them withdrawing and disengaging from health and care services completely, which means they don’t have access to the health and care that they may need and are entitled to.

The card can help to facilitate conversations and enable a level of understanding which otherwise may well not happen. It is a positive step towards creating equity for those of us living with trauma.”

Period of evaluation

As the programme enters a period of evaluation where the team assess various aspects of their use and impact, you can still get a Trauma Card.

To get a Trauma Card for yourself or to find out more about Healthwatch Essex and the Trauma Ambassador Group, visit www.healthwatchessex.org.uk/trauma or call 0300 500 1895.

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