Let’s have the courage to be kind
30 Sep 2021
Dr Elizabeth Kelly, Carnegie UK Trust Associate, will be speaking at the President’s Conference on 6-7 October 2021. In this blog Dr Kelly previews her talk ‘Let’s have the courage to be kind’.
Dr Elizabeth Kelly
Carnegie UK Trust Associate
My name is Elizabeth. Who I am and how I am, rather than what I am, has become increasingly more important to me especially over the last year since I retired from clinical practice. How often did I introduce myself as a doctor or a GP – as Chair of National Services Scotland NHS Health Board and National clinical lead for Palliative and End of Life Care – and yet manage to miss out the threads and stories that I bring with me? These threads and stories that create my sense of person, my sense of worth and my vulnerabilities.
This brings me to how I have been invited to speak at the President’s conference in Glasgow on 7th October 2021. The session is titled “Creating a Wellbeing culture: what qualities are needed?” and my talk is titled “Let’s have the courage to be kind”. I will speak after John Sturrock, whose report the Cultural issues related to allegations of bullying and harassment in NHS Highland was published in 2019 at a time when I was increasingly engaged with the thinking of Carnegie UK around kindness and its relationship to wellbeing.
A powerful read is Kindness, emotions and human relationships: The blind spot in public policy published by Carnegie UK and written by Julia Unwin. She finishes with these statements “we are at our best when we recognise the importance of emotions and deep human connections and … that public services are always about relationships and emotions.”
Kindness: I wonder what it means to you? I hope to explore how kindness is key to our own wellbeing, the relationships we have with others, to the care we deliver and also a critical determinant of leadership that can lead to radical, open conversations about difficult and emotive issues.
As a GP I have listened and witnessed many stories of fear, anxiety, loss and hurt. Some of these I could relate to on a personal level, and yet I kept any response buried and hidden, even to myself. The “armour” of the health care professional can be helpful, perhaps seen as being professional. However, I wonder if it stops us thinking about the impact of those stories on us as people and how to sit with them, reflect on their impact and keep well. I know that the people round about me helped, through their random acts of kindness, their recognition of me as a person, and from their comments colleagues were reciprocating through the kindness and enabling culture we worked in.
Relational kindness enables wellbeing; but when absent, or even worse, when unkindness is present, the wounds can be deep, the conversations closed and defensive which can lead to behaviours that permeate into how we are with the very people we work to enable. For example, how many complaints from patients and their families are about communication?
Last year, through my involvement in Carnegie UK’s research, The courage to be kind: Reflecting on the role of kindness in the healthcare response to Covid 19, I received a personal invitation to chair a Scottish Government group that brings people together to shape and influence national and local services to support the wellbeing and mental health of the health and social care workforce. At a time when recovery and renewal from the Covid 19 pandemic feels a long way away and the messages of exhaustion, fear, anxiety, burnout are strong and loud, I believe we need to talk about the issues, the impact, the challenges for retention and recruitment. I hope to talk to my brief about the courage needed for radical kindness; kindness that builds trust and consensus across traditional boundaries and considers a way forward for policies that balance the language of the rational with the relational. And I would like to invite all those reading this to join in a conversation about the importance of kindness in improving the wellbeing of staff and patients across our health and care.
Dr Elizabeth Kelly will be a speaker at the President’s Conference Time to Heal: Recovery and Renewal on 6-7 October 2021. The full programme for the President’s Conference can be found here.
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