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Why it matters that healthcare staff share their experiences, even in a crisis

Bev Fitzsimons 01 May 2020

Bev Fitzsimons reflects on stories from healthcare workers caring for patients and families during the Covid-19 crisis and discusses the need for staff to share their experiences now more than ever.

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At the Point of Care Foundation, we have said many times how inextricably linked the experiences of patients and families are with the experiences of those providing care. But this has been brought into sharp relief this week as I have been reviewing the digital stories recorded by health and care staff for the reflective practice forum Team Time – our way of bringing some of what we have learned from Schwartz Rounds to the current Covid-19 crisis.

What struck me was the humanity running through each and every story. A staff member witnessing a small child being admitted to hospital alone, without a parent, and surrounded by scary-looking people in full PPE. The staff member felt visually affronted by this sight and reflected on how terrifying it must be for the child, as well as for the parents having to hand their child over to the care of strangers. It made her think about how she would feel if it were one of her own children.

What struck me was the humanity running through each and every story.

Warmth and empathy were evident in storytellers’ accounts of caring for colleagues who became patients. Stories about providing comfort and holding the hand of a colleague, without a thought for PPE, or removing a mask because an older person can’t make out what is being said. Recognition of the need for people simply to be there for each other, human to human.

It was apparent from the stories we heard that whilst acts of kindness draw on the reserves of strength and resilience of staff, they also nourish and enrich both the care giver and the person being cared for. At the same time, people spoke of sadness, fear and also anger at the seemingly random way in which Covid-19 is affecting people.

We also a heard a running theme through many of the stories about the guilt and moral distress people feel when they can’t provide the experience of care that they would like to. This is sometimes due to the pressure on services, or because the clinical requirements of care make it difficult to maintain the human touch when hidden behind equipment, or even because staff need to self-isolate, meet caring responsibilities or work from home. Health and care workers feel the burden of not doing their bit for their patients and colleagues, and feel both guilt and a sense of detachment from what is happening.

We also a heard a running theme through many of the stories about the guilt and moral distress people feel when they can’t provide the experience of care that they would like to.

Through our Team Time initiative, we are providing support to staff to help them articulate these feelings, which we know from Schwartz Rounds can reduce the sense of isolation that staff sometimes feel – perhaps even more so now. We also know it helps people feel connected, and to know they are not alone in feeling these very human emotions.

That’s why, during Experience of Care Week, we want to stress that even in the midst of a clinical crisis, it is still important for healthcare staff to tell their stories and share their experiences. These experiences will stay with the individuals affected, often for the rest of their lives. I feel privileged to have heard them, and they will certainly stay with me.