Prince William has admitted the coming months could be “scary” as he thanked emergency responders amid concerns coronavirus cases are increasing again.
William, 38, travelled to Belfast on Wednesday to mark 999 Day, which honours the work of emergency services on 9 September each year.
He said: “This has already been an extraordinary year. The months ahead will no doubt be uncertain and at some points scary.
The remark came as England faced new restrictions on the number of people who can gather indoors or outdoors, after a spike in the number of cases, and the highest death rate since June.
He gave a speech at the Police Service of Northern Ireland’s training college, where he highlighted the need for good mental health support for those working in response situations.
Those attending the event are taking part in the PSNI’s Wellbeing Volunteer Training course, a peer support programme which is the first of its kind in the PSNI.
He said: “Thanks to the dedication and sacrifice of those of you working across the emergency services and in the NHS, I count myself and others in this country very fortunate.
“Your dedication is not only apparent when we are faced with a global pandemic.
The duke made reference to the stabbings in Birmingham in the early hours of Sunday, saying responders had “turned up to a horrendous incident and provided critical care and support to the most vulnerable”.
William also briefly touched on his own experiences as an air ambulance pilot: “I know first hand, that even in routine circumstances, those of you on the frontline can face immense challenges that can naturally have a significant impact on both your physical and mental health.
“Firstly, it’s important that we recognise that.
“And secondly, it’s important that we do all we can to support you through it.”
William and his wife Kate, 38, made the mental health of frontline workers their priority in royal work when the lockdown was announced in the UK.
They set up ‘Our Frontline’ in April, which provided a range of resources accessible at all hours, to those who had to continue working out of their homes while the country was into lockdown.
In Belfast, he told police officers about a meeting he convened on Tuesday with the heads of emergency services and their respective charities, saying there had never been a meeting on mental health like it.
He said: “I was encouraged and heartened about their desire for tangible and lasting change – with new and better collaboration and training, which could certainly draw inspiration from the peer support programme here in Northern Ireland.
“In February of last year, Catherine and I met with a group of your PSNI colleagues at Hillsborough Castle to hear about their experiences and the unique set of policing and safety challenges that they face.
“We were struck then, as I am now, by your steadfast commitment to helping others. You are a testament to the blue light community across our country, and I can’t thank you enough for what you do.
“At one point or another, each and every one of us will meet you or one of your colleagues, speak to you, be comforted by you and benefit from the care and protection you provide.
“Given what we ask of you, we must do all we can to look out for you; and to help you to look out for each other.”
He later opened up about his experiences as an air ambulance pilot, telling other emergency responders: “I couldn’t put my finger on it, but you just felt very sad.
“And then you start to see the world very differently…you start just getting very sad that the world is so hurt.
“It’s only then you go ‘hang on, you’ve got to look at this’ because it’s only natural that you sponge it and bring it in.”
He added: “Sadly with the Air Ambulance you get a lot of deaths and I didn’t realise (the impact) – I would go to the next one and the next one.”
William would have been in Belfast last week, for the Emergency Services Festival of Thanksgiving, which was due to be held in the city’s cathedral.
However it was moved online because of restrictions related to coronavirus.
William gave an address during the ceremony, thanking workers for their sacrifices.
The father-of-three has also spoken on several occasions during the pandemic about the pressure those who work in emergency services feel, including cautioning against using the word ‘hero’.
He is a volunteer on Shout, the 24/7 text based messaging service he launched alongside Kate, and Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, through the Royal Foundation.