Returning nursing students are being offered the opportunity to talk opening about their mental health and wellbeing thanks to the hospital chaplaincy team.

East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust have offered their ‘Listening Lounges’ to students, to enable them to discuss their experiences of working during the pandemic in an open, relaxed and honest atmosphere.

The sessions, which are led by Chaplain and Counsellor David Anderson, alongside his therapy dog, Jasper, were set up at the beginning of the pandemic.

The Listening Lounges, which are described as a “lifeline” by staff who attend, offer a facilitated open and honest discussion with nursing colleagues, and provide access to trained therapy dog Jasper. They are held in an ‘Oasis’ room, which provides comfortable and socially distanced seating available to all staff 24 hours a day.

David Anderson, Chaplain and Counsellor at ELHT, said: “Our student nurses continue to play a vital role within the NHS at this difficult time and it is important that as an organisation we continue to support them as much as possible.

“Alongside us all, they have witnessed and experienced may difficult things, and continue to do so. For their own mental well-being it is important that they have a safe space to process these feelings and share their experience.

“Nationally we know that NHS staff are experiencing increased mental health difficulties and our listening lounges are just one form of support we are offering to help care for those who have given so much over the last 12 months.”

The sessions have highlighted trauma experienced by both staff and student nurses and have received high praise from both the students and staff who attend.

One attendee said: “The sessions were the first time I opened up, and the first time I properly cried. It helped me understand that we don’t always have to stay strong, it’s okay to talk and it’s okay to express our feelings.”

Another said: “Before the session I felt like I was struggling and nobody could understand how I felt. Now I feel so much better knowing that I’m not on my own, and other people feel the same way.”

Catherine Randall, Deputy Head of Safeguarding for NHS England and Improvement, said: “We recognise it is tough for our students, so it’s important that we listen and reach out. We need to provide restorative supervision, and give the students time to heal, time to reflect and discuss their experiences. Students are the next generation of our workforce, so it’s important that we look after them.