In the latest edition of our membership magazine VOICE, College President Professor Jackie Taylor has written an update to Fellows and Members, in which she reflects on faith, hope and kindness. A copy of this is below and College Members can read the full magazine by logging in.
For many of us working in healthcare in the UK over the past couple of months, it’s sometimes been difficult to see much beyond the end of the day. The sharp increase in the number of hospitalised patients with COVID-19 has been relentless: our health service and teams have been stretched to the limit and at times beyond that. The daily grind of working in an extremely pressurised and stressful environment, coping with significant staff shortages and dealing with distressed patients and carers, has taken a huge toll on staff. Both now and as we emerge from the pandemic we must be prepared for the longer term impact on the wellbeing and health of our colleagues.
This will require interventions at an individual and organisational levels and I firmly believe that our College will also have an important part to play. These concerns are in sharp contrast to the wave of relief I felt on receiving my first dose of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine in the fortnight before Christmas. As I said at the time, I am particularly fortunate that, as a patient-facing clinician (of a certain age!) I received my vaccination early in the roll out. It was an emotional experience. While usually quite a rational person, I had developed a hugely irrational fear that I might contract COVID-19 before I could be vaccinated. Perhaps that is just a reflection of the chronic, levels of anxiety that we have all been living with and trying to subdue for the past ten months.
We are now in a race to immunise as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. While it will be some weeks before the vaccination programme will impact on hospitalisations there is now a sense of seeing a way through the current wave, to a freer, less restricted life ahead. As we struggle through until then, while it is increasingly hard to do so, it has never been more important to try to make time to look after your own wellbeing and that of those around you. Which brings me back once more to the topic of kindness as I have said before, such an under-rated quality. One of our Fellows told me a story of their recent experience when then they were having a particular bad week. Working in a red ward – surrounded by understandably distressed relatives, with only one trainee doctor for support.
One morning she couldn’t find a parking space in the hospital, so used a nearby car park which allowed parking for four hours. At 1pm she was inevitably running late and knew that she would get a parking ticket unless she could change out her scrubs to rush outside and renew the ticket. A colleague took the time to ask her why she was so stressed. The colleague then paid for her parking through her mobile phone app. “It was the nicest thing that anyone had done for me all week”, she said. We should never underestimate the power of simple, small acts of kindness: stopping to spend a few moments in the corridor (socially distanced) to greet a colleague, a text, a cup of coffee. These acts of kindness benefit those who receive and those who give.
We should be conscious of the need to be kind to ourselves, our colleagues and our patients, and the overwhelmingly positive impact that this will have on our day to day life and mental health. Kindness shouldn’t be an “added extra”, it should be fundamental to how we live our lives. The importance of kindness in providing high quality healthcare was underlined recently in a piece of research published by Carnegie UK at the end of last year. The report, “The courage to be kind. Reflecting on the role of kindness in the healthcare response to COVID-19” was based around a series of reflective conversations with five medics working in different parts of NHS Scotland over the middle of 2020, it follows on from the Sturrock Report into bullying in NHS Highland, which highlighted in its recommendations that “kindness is what is needed” to overcome a toxic working atmosphere.
The Carnegie UK report has built on this, highlighting the importance of kindness, and creating space to listen. I agree wholeheartedly. The report concludes: “This is critical in the sense that if we want to provide the best possible healthcare, we need to look after the wellbeing of those that are providing it. But it is also clear that the ambitions of health and social care renewal can only be realised if they build on, rather than stifle, the vast knowledge and skill that is found across the workforce.”
Our College will continue our work to ensure that your voice is heard and that your wellbeing is supported as governments and healthcare providers plan for the future. The public health crisis we’ve faced over the past year has been all encompassing. We have a few tough months ahead of us. But as we progress through these dark days, please try to keep faith, have hope, and remember the power of kindness.