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Time to Heal: investment in practitioner wellbeing is ‘not a luxury, but a necessity’

17 Dec 2021

In the latest edition of VOICE magazine, Kristin Hay reflects on wellbeing, workforce and inclusivity as the key topics discussed during our President’s Conference, Time To Heal: Recovery and Renewal, which took place in October this year.

Kristin Hay, PhD research intern

Our President’s conference Time to Heal: Recovery and Renewal took place in October this year. The conference, which concluded a weeklong programme of events to celebrate and mark the end of Professor Jackie Taylor’s tenure as President of the College, featured a number of influential and inspiring speakers across all areas of health and social care. The conference’s theme – ‘Time to Heal: Recovery and Renewal’ – was chosen to reflect upon the overwhelming challenges of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and to begin building strategies of recovery through the lens of wellbeing, workforce and inclusivity.

Day one of the President’s Conference – held virtually focused on practitioner wellbeing, mental health, the workplace environment, and the impact of Covid-19 on the healthcare profession. Following an opening address by Professor Taylor and a virtual message from Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care Humza Yousaf, the conference heard from a range of practitioners and health professionals on topics including managing a healthy work-life balance, living with Long Covid, ICU survivorship, the physiology of stress, and the devastating impact of poor mental health, self-injury and suicide. The overwhelming consensus reflected by speakers was that the pandemic has had a devastating impact on an already exhausted and overworked caring profession. Professor Taylor emphasised the ‘great courage, self-sacrifice, determination and innovation’ demonstrated by the NHS staff which deserved recognition and admiration.

At the same time, emphasis that healthcare workers were not superheroes for overcoming the seemingly-insurmountable challenges of the pandemic, and many of the problems facing the profession were not created, but were instead exacerbated by Covid-19. Although salient to the real issues facing the profession, Conference Day One was also filled with personal anecdotes recalling moments of genuine kindness, camaraderie and resilience exhibited by NHS practitioners during some the worst moments of the pandemic. Uplifting expressions of hope and optimism – and a resolve to effect direct change – was also felt across the day, emphasising that wellbeing of health professionals was a moral imperative which could no longer be ignored.

On the second day, attention was turned to leadership and recovery. Speakers attended both virtually and in-person during this hybrid event – including Professor Dame Carrie McEwan DBE of the UK General Medical Council, Harvard Medical School’s Professor Jo Shapiro, and the Scottish Government’s National Clinical Director, Jason Leitch. Discussion was focused on NHS recovery, challenges to wellbeing, curating a healthy wellbeing culture and compassionate leadership.

The conference heard some of the innovative initiatives being set up across Scotland and beyond in order to tackle poor wellbeing, bullying and excessive workloads through conducting qualitative research, establishing peer support networks and building leadership development programmes. Equality, diversity and inclusion was also a key theme, as speakers reflected on the importance of recovery strategies being intersectional and reflecting the differing needs of staff across race, gender, class, sexuality and ability. Many of the topics raised were underpinned by compassionate leadership, with leaders being urged to listen to staff needs with empathy, foster a supportive environment for healthcare practitioners, and build genuine and authentic relationships with colleagues.

Collaboration and co-creation was also emphasised, with speakers arguing that recovery strategies should include a range of voices and vertical dialogue throughout the health service. The inaugural President’s Conference was an open, reflective, challenging and inspiring two-day event where influential members of the health and caring professions shared both personal experiences and strategic initiatives in tandem. It represented a call to action for everyone across the caring professions to work together to promote kindness within the health service, foster genuine and supportive relationships with colleagues, and curate an inclusive culture within the NHS. It also urged leaders to take direct actions to respond to the immediate and long-term needs of practitioners and to alleviate excessive workloads and burnout, all underpinned by compassion, empathy and understanding.

Alongside calls for change, reflections of joy, sadness, grief, camaraderie, love and solidarity were also omnipresent throughout the two days. These moments embodied the true values of those working in the NHS: the bravery and compassion of practitioners on the frontlines of the pandemic which can never be forgotten. However, as speakers noted throughout the conference, kindness and compassion cannot be a hollow or soft response to real issues: practicing kindness, particularly in the healthcare setting, is demanding and requires direct action and courage. Overall, as eloquently expressed by speaker John Sturrock QC, by viewing Covid-19 recovery through the lens of kindness, health and social care, professionals have the potential to ‘reset the neuropathways’ of the NHS and ‘transform the healing process’ for the better.

This article was published in the Winter 2021 edition of VOICE magazine. Members of our College can log in to read the latest edition of VOICE in full.

Category: Wellbeing

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