As we move into a Covid winter, and as the number of Coronavirus cases continues to rise and put pressure on our beloved NHS, I wanted to shine a light on the wellbeing of the NHS professional – the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and hospital and general practice support staff.
When we’re all so focused on surviving this supervirus and on the physical health of the public, it’s easy to forget about the psychological and mental health of the professionals whose job it is to help us stay well.
Before the pandemic hit, I had the privilege to work for a year coaching a team of general practice doctors, who recognised that they need some help to improve their teamworking and leadership skills.
Here were the doctors’ challenges:
Managing the physical manifestations but also the emotional toll on their self-care, energy and motivation levels.
When treating patients in clinic all day most days, very little time and empathy is left to have important and sometimes difficult conversations. Conversations to gauge one another’s wellbeing and conversations to mitigate any brewing awkwardness, or to hunt ‘the elephants in the room’.
Personal and professional growth.
Unsurprisingly doctors don’t spend much time learning about leadership! The limited training time they are allocated is often prioritised around health and safety and medical knowledge building and skills development.
The NHS is a challenging and vast workplace. Any individual hospital, general practice or team can feel unsupported and under-invested in due to the lack of resources and the enormity of the patient population to serve. Competencies such as positivity, empathy, relationship skills, self-confidence and self-control are both tested to the limit and difficult to sustain in the NHS workplace.
After a year of dedicated and continuous skills development in a team coaching environment, these NHS professionals were collaborating, communicating and delegating better than ever, they had designed exciting future plans for the Practice and for their growth as a team of leaders, and they felt closer, stronger and more resilient than they had previously.
Six months later, Covid-19 hit. And the Practice’s entire operational model was turned upside down as they were obligated to physically turn patients away, move to running virtual clinics, help their local hospital colleagues run the emergency Covid ward and adapt to accommodate their own staff sickness and leave, and indeed their own.
And so today, with the most challenging of Covid-related circumstances – circumstances that are outside of their control, this team of professionals continue to manage the challenges of burnout, communication and resilience. And unsurprisingly, until they are out of crisis mode, their structured professional development will be taking a back seat. Their potential to survive this most difficult of career phases will rest on their capacity to manage their wellbeing. Advice and tips on how to improve wellbeing is widely available so I won’t replicate this here.
What I will advocate, however, is a collective moral responsibility to keep a careful and close eye on any family members, friends or colleagues working in the NHS. We can encourage these professionals to prioritise – to not neglect – their wellbeing. Here are ways in which we can ensure that they are considering their wellbeing…
- Check in. Call or send them a message and ask how they are coping and how are they feeling (open-ended questions)
- Invite them to join you in an activity – a walk outdoors, a yoga class, a self-help webinar or a virtual cup of coffee and a natter. And then if they agree, revert to #1
- If you are able to secure their time and attention, start a conversation about wellbeing. Share with them what you’re doing to maintain your resilience levels – what is working well for you and what new practices you’re building into your schedule. Highlight the hard work! Self-prioritisation doesn’t come easily to many professionals, and especially not to those who are conditioned to prioritise the health and safety of others, but in times of crisis, especially, it’s essential.
- Stay empathetic. Keep lending your ear, giving them your attention, seeking to understand what it’s like to be in their shoes, and offering your support.
A key ingredient of resilience work is having the right support team in place. And we can all support the NHS during these critical months by making the wellbeing of our NHS professionals a priority.
Equal Talent wishes our much loved and inspirational Peel Medical Practice clients the very best – please stay safe, sane and well in the months ahead.