Observations on how Clinical Staff are using Wellbeing Support at present

May 2020 

We have been running a twice-weekly, drop-in, support group for NHS Clinical Staff through Practitioner Health since 10th April, and this is to share our observations which we believe are important.

Doctors of different disciplines and grades, and Dentists, from all over the UK have attended our groups and we have noticed a pattern. The Clinical Staff who come to our group have not been Frontline staff dealing with COVID patients. They express concern about confidentiality, some prefer to close their camera, and all express a strong reticence to speak about their experiences and an uncertainty about joining a support group. Most staff begin by letting us know that everything is fine, and they are just curious.

Without exception, everyone who joins our groups finds themselves safe enough in a confidential environment to open up as the session progresses. What we then hear is that things are not fine and that they have good reason to join the group. Speaking openly about stresses and anxieties related to the current COVID situation and working in an extremely pressured NHS, sharing with others, inevitably leads to relief, and everyone who has joined our groups has expressed this relief, which is found to be most helpful.

We have noticed themes, people who join the groups commonly talk about: professional guilt and a feeling of not doing enough, anxiety about working in a COVID world, and being off-duty at home dealing with the everyday stresses and uncertainties that we are all dealing with. We have noticed that a significant number of participants report feeling very isolated and alone with their thoughts and feelings, and the knowledge that others feel the same, has been hugely calming.

Clinical Staff who have opened up in our groups feel, in particular, that there would usually be a stigma attached to expressing some vulnerability and the types of anxieties described above. Our observation is that it is almost as if there is a code of practice for Doctors to cope, manage and above all not to show vulnerability.

Perhaps this may explain one reason for a low take-up of Wellbeing Support. However we have noticed without exception that those who are courageous enough to come to the group, do open up once they feel that this is a safe space, and then report enormous relief.

Denise Hurst Hastings & Fella Orlean-Taub, Psychotherapists