“Recovery and then renewal”. These four words in the title of a recent King’s Fund report by Michael West and Suzie Bailey really hit home to me. It is a simple message that we all need hear. We cannot expect to deliver the best care for our patients, if we are at the limit of our own reserves.
From the distant days of air travel, many of you will be familiar with the analogy of putting your own oxygen mask on first before you assist someone else. The same is true for the health and care workforce who have been working under immense and intense pressure for many, many months now. I know of many colleagues who have experienced exhaustion and anxiety, who live life on the verge of tears, and who have not had a proper break in months due to the relentless tide of work.
We cannot sustain this. We need time to heal. And we need to be allowed that time to heal.
There is no doubt that once we have gained a level of control over this pandemic, huge efforts will be needed to to recover the healthcare system and manage the backlog of non-COVID related morbidity that has built up. This will require systematic transformation of the way health and social care are delivered. There will be much we can learn from the innovations in service delivery we have seen in the last year, but it will take months, indeed years to fully recover.
And we cannot begin that system recovery without a healthy workforce. In their report, Michael West and Suzie Bailey say, “There is an urgent need to prioritise compassionate support for those on the front line before we can hope to address the huge backlog of non-covid work.”
We need time to recover, and then renew. Last year, after the first wave of the pandemic, I feel we tried to recover the system too quickly – and it was the human recovery that has suffered the consequences. We need to learn from that. We can’t immediately bounce back from this, and we shouldn’t be expected to. We shouldn’t expect it of ourselves. We need to put people first, and allow the health workforce time to rest, recover and heal.
This is the message that I will be reinforcing at every meeting I go to and at every level.