Professor Jackie Taylor says that Covid recovery in our health service will need a focus on staff morale, resilience and wellbeing
The Covid-19 pandemic placed a huge burden on our health service and all those who work in it.
While the number of admissions to hospital and intensive care units rapidly increased during each wave of the virus, staff were also impacted by falling victim to the virus themselves or unable to work because they needed to isolate.
It was a storm of increasing patient numbers with reduced staff capacity in an already stretched system. It felt relentless at times, but we all pulled together and did all we could to care for our patients, as we always do.
Throughout the last year, many hospitals have also been supported by a team of largely unsung heroes – volunteers who stepped forward to work alongside our clinical teams.
I cannot overstate the difference these volunteers have made. Their kindness and compassion has been inspirational, and the contribution they have made should be acknowledged. Among the memories of sadness and death that many of my colleagues have experienced in the past year, the army of brave and committed volunteers are a shining light in the midst of it all.
Volunteers stepped up to help wherever they were needed to lighten the load on staff and to support our patients, many of whom were not allowed visits from their families because of the pandemic. I will never forget the kind volunteer who took an elderly patient to his wife’s funeral when there were no nurses available.
This selfless kindness is a wonderful example of the good that exists in our society. We owe them so much and thank them so little. I want to let them all know how much they are appreciated.
While our health service has thrived during this difficult time on the kindness of volunteers, it cannot survive in the long term with this dependency. There is an urgent need to address workforce shortages in our hospitals. Even before the pandemic, NHS services in Scotland were over-stretched due to unfilled consultant posts, rising demand for services, and shortages of staff in all grades of medical and nursing staff.
As we look to the future, the remobilisation of the NHS provides an opportunity to learn from the last 12 months. We have seen that speed of decision making, innovative thinking and breaking through bureaucracy has served us well. The same approach will be needed to create the shape of our workforce going forward. We will need a focus on maintaining staff morale, resilience and wellbeing – in order to achieve this, the workforce will need time to heal before we can begin to put in place major system renewal.
In our manifesto for the forthcoming Holyrood elections This is what we stand for we call for action on a range of issues to address workforce, wellbeing and inclusivity within our health service. Taking on meaningful and direct action will make a huge difference and a positive future for both patients and healthcare workers.
Professor Jackie Taylor is president of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow.