Review of the year that was 


One of my first tasks in my new role as Deputy Director of Practitioner Health is to write to you, my colleagues in the NHS, and it has been difficult to know where to start. 
Almost 12 months ago, as we celebrated new year and the dawn of 2020, could any of us have imagined the challenges that were to come, that changes we would need to embrace and the new ways of living and working we would all need to adapt to ? 

It has been a year of uncertainty, anxiety and change. We have even acquired a new word – Corona-coaster’ that sums up how this year has been for so many of us. Our experiences have all been different, many of us have been pushed into situations beyond what we would normally cope with - redeployment, rota changes, ever-increasing workload, staff shortages, adapting to change on a daily basis – these have all taken their toll. The clapping has stopped as we work harder than ever in the face of uncertainty and an ever-changing landscape. 

We have endured huge psychological strain in the NHS and we have been proud to support you, our colleagues, here in the Practitioner Health Service. In recent months we have seen the numbers of doctors and dentists entering our service at almost double pre-pandemic rates – over 100 per week in recent months and we have a current caseload of around 5000 patients. 

Our staff of nearly 200 clinicians and therapists across the country are seeing firsthand the effects that this year has had on the mental health of the NHS workforce, we have listened to their stories – heard the common themes of pain, loss, guilt, burnout, distress, overwhelm and trauma. We have cared for these doctors and dentists and have treated the symptoms they present with – anxiety, depression, symptoms indistinguishable from PTSD, addiction, suicidal risk and a myriad of other psychological symptoms. 

Since the start of the pandemic NHS Practitioner Health has responded to the needs of our colleagues and delivered a whole range of wellbeing offers aimed at the wider NHS workforce. We have delivered more than 900 events to over 10,000 NHS staff since April 2020. Some of our most popular events have been our Common rooms and our Caring during Covid, Caring for You expert speaker series. Our expert speakers have covered the topics that are affecting staff the most and have included; ‘Beating burnout’, ‘Taking a break during Covid’ Managing anxiety and the fear of the unknown’.

All of our past webinars and future events can be accessed here, including our Christmas common room on 30th December at 1pm which offers an online safe and confidential space to reflect and connect with colleagues over the holiday period. Christmas can be a difficult and lonely time, this year the holidays will be different - we may be unable to spend time with friends and loved ones as we normally would and many of us will have experienced loss which is felt so much more acutely at this time. 

Alongside our wider NHS wellbeing offers we have expanded our support for our patients to include Covid support groups, groups for parents with children with complex medical needs, peer support and our Doctors and Long Covid group in association with the Doctors in Distress charity . We also continue to offer facilitated support groups including the bereaved doctors group, our Anchor and Garden addiction groups. 

The optimism with which we would normally look forward to a new year may feel somewhat depleted right now. However, here at Practitioner Health we have also heard and seen firsthand your stories of resilience, strength, adaptability (how many of us could use Zoom before 2020?), integrity and courage in the face of adversity. It takes courage to seek support, it is simply not possible to cope in adversity without support- it is the cornerstone of resilience. 

This year has seen all of us within the NHS overcome unforeseeable challenges and strains For every single one of us, our track record for coping with adversity is 100%, you have coped, adapted and survived every challenge that you have faced in your life so far and we can get through what is to come together, with kindness and compassion. 

So, how do we move forward with optimism and hope? How do we learn and grow as a result of our experiences this year? As we reflect on the obstacles we have overcome in 2020 ask yourself;

What have you learned about yourself and other people?
What skills have you developed? 
What made you laugh the hardest?
What mistakes did you make and what did you learn from them? 
What are you most proud of this year? 
What was the kindest thing you did for someone else this year
What was the kindest thing someone did for you? 

As the new year and the vaccine arrives so with it does hope. Yet as we move into the new year, the challenges remain. We know that so many of you are weary and exhausted. It is more important than ever that we take whatever steps we can to care for ourselves and each other so that we can continue to care for our patients with the dedication, compassion and passion we pride ourselves in.

We have a duty to look after ourselves, to ensure as a bare minimum the basics are attended to. To give ourselves permission to sleep, rest, eat food that nourishes us, be physically active, to consciously connect with family and friends in whatever way we can and to acknowledge and engage in the things that bring us joy. This pandemic has caused so many of us to examine what is really important to us, as we move into a new year I implore you to spend time on and prioritise the things that really matter in your own life, this is what is important. 

As we close the door on 2020 and look towards 2021 know that just as your doors remain open- so do ours. We are here for you at Practitioner Health. Here to treat, support and care for you and your colleagues in complete confidence. 
Know that without your expertise, compassion and dedication the NHS would be a darker place. 
Know that every single one of you has made a difference to the lives of the people you work with and care for.
Know you are not alone.
Know you are valued.

Thank you for all that you do. 

Dr Helen Garr 
Deputy Director NHS Practitioner Health. 

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