New psychological support service for Wales

A new specialist psychological support service for people infected by contaminated blood and their families has been launched in Wales.

The service, which is part of the Wales Infected Blood Support Scheme and funded by the Welsh Government, will offer tailored psychological support to anyone infected in Wales, as well as their partner, children, siblings, grandparents and parents. Bereaved families are also eligible for support. 

The service has been set up by Julie Armytage, a trained integrative counsellor with experience in bereavement, loss and trauma. She was a member of a trauma team who offered support to those affected by the spate of suicides in Bridgend during 2007/8 and under local authority has managed a team of counsellors who provided award-winning emotional support to children and young people.

For the last five years she has worked with cancer patients and is a co-creator of a mindfulness app that is aimed at helping people better manage anxiety and difficult thoughts, feelings and emotions.

Julie will work for three days a week and be joined by clinical psychologist Caroline Coffey for one day a week. Caroline, who has been qualified for 14 years, has considerable experience working with people living with HIV, hepatitis and cancer. Another part-time clinician may also be appointed.

Anyone who wants to use the service should apply directly using a self-referral form which can be downloaded from the WIBSS website. Each applicant will be individually assessed to work out the best treatment options for their needs. 

Julie, who is based in Cardiff, is keen to highlight that the service will cover the whole of Wales and offer a number of different therapy options, including multi-media platforms, one-to-one counselling and mindfulness, as well as linking to existing services. 

She said: “We don’t want to be just another faceless service. We want to promote approachability and will be flexible in what we offer, depending on need.”

The on-going Infected Blood Inquiry has brought the issue of psychological support into the public eye, with many witnesses expressing their frustration at the lack of help available. Julie said: “We understand there is a lot of anger and a lot of resentment. People are being retraumatised by reliving experiences from their past.” 

This is the first time a specialist psychological support service has been provided by an infected blood support scheme in the UK. In England, infected recipients and bereaved partners can apply for up to £900 a year for counselling services through EIBSS if it is not available through their GP or there is a long wait. Applicants must get a quote for the counselling in advance plus documents which prove the counsellor’s qualifications and that they have indemnity insurance. Many people have criticised having to “jump through hoops” to get this money. 

In Northern Ireland there is no psychological support through the infected blood support scheme although people can apply for help through the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. 

In Scotland, those infected and affected by contaminated blood can make an application to the SIBSS to pay for counselling, however up take has been low. Separately, a pilot scheme which offers a combined physiological and psychiatric service for individuals and families with a bleeding disorder has been running for three years. 

The service is open to anyone, regardless of whether they were impacted by contaminated blood products. Originally based in Edinburgh, the service is now trialling across Scotland. Currently, all haemophilia centres in Scotland can refer into the service and, for the cases where that isn’t appropriate, referrals can also be made by Haemophilia Scotland.

The Haemophilia Society has raised concerns with Infected Blood Inquiry chair Sir Brian Langstaff and former Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, about the lack of adequate specialist psychological support for people infected and affected by contaminated blood.

Although the Red Cross offers a telephone support service and counsellors at the Infected Blood Inquiry hearings, we believe a national, specialist service must be developed. The psychological support model being used in Wales could offer the way forward and we wish it every success. We’d be interested to hear any feedback from our Welsh members, when the service is up and running. 

* To contact the psychological support service in Wales you can email wibss.wellbeingservice@wales.nhs.uk or find it at: https://wibss.wales.nhs.uk. Self-referrals to the service are now being accepted.