Jo Mclean, executive director, at Performing Medicine (www.performingmedicine.com), an initiative founded by multi award-winning charity Clod Ensemble, provides an insight into how it is helping empower NHS staff to improve communication skills and strengthen their own mental health and wellbeing.
The significant impact of the arts on patients and the workforce alike has been amplified during the pandemic, with the long-established collaboration between the arts and healthcare strengthened further. Transferring skills, knowledge and experience across industries inspires change and brings compelling benefits, and arts-based interventions are increasingly being incorporated across NHS services to support current challenges.
For more than 20 years Performing Medicine has worked closely in partnership with the NHS, providing arts-based training and leading unique research programmes. Today our specialist skills and expertise are in high demand. We have worked with more than 16,000 healthcare professionals and medical students and have long-standing partnerships with many NHS trusts including two of the largest trusts and medical schools in the country; Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, along with many others.
As we become more open to new models of health and social care than ever before, culture plays a vital role, and has provided essential support for NHS staff, particularly frontline workers, during the COVID-19 crisis. Our work focuses on using arts-based approaches to improve professional development and staff wellbeing; and with work related stress and anxiety growing due to the ongoing pressures of COVID-19, the mental health and wellbeing of NHS staff is a key priority.
Many healthcare organisations prefer bespoke programmes, and we therefore work closely with our clients to create flexible tailor-made programmes designed to meet the unique needs of individual healthcare organisations, customising our approach to ensure it supports organisations, and their workforce, exactly as required.
Supporting mental health and wellbeing
Performing Medicine runs many self-care sessions to help staff to revive and recover before, during and after shifts; equipping frontline workers with the skills and resources needed to help improve their own wellbeing and self-care.
Sessions are designed exclusively for healthcare professionals; empowering frontline workers to look after themselves, their teams and their patients.
We demonstrate to healthcare teams that self-care is essential. It is not an indulgent treat, instead it is critical to professional practice. By embracing self-care, and looking after themselves, healthcare professionals are in the best possible position to continue to deliver their invaluable work and provide quality care for patients.
A recent example of this is our collaboration with Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB) and Swansea University, leading a pilot programme to improve staff mental health and wellbeing. This incredibly successful programme focused on self-care and stress management for staff using interactive workshops to encourage individuals to think about, practice and demonstrate high-quality compassionate care. Following the successful pilot, SBUHB has engaged Performing Medicine to deliver further sessions for staff who are struggling with the effects of the pandemic and the stress that it has created.
A further example is Recovery Room, our free digital resource to guide healthcare workers through a series of movements that can be completed individually, and all you need is a chair!
Improving communication while wearing PPE
The way in which healthcare professionals communicate and interact with colleagues and patients has changed enormously in the past year through the mandatory wearing of visors and masks. A main area of development for Performing Medicine, has been to respond to the challenges of wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
We developed ‘Coping with PPE’ in response to a request from University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH), which addresses some of the issues around wearing PPE for extended periods of time and includes tips from professional actors and performers, including from War Horse and Star Wars, who are used to wearing heavy restrictive costumes, masks, puppets, animatronics, and prosthetics.
From advice on orientation and spatial awareness, and non-verbal communication, to breathing techniques and body-scans; ‘Coping with PPE’ is an effective resource for everyone working in the healthcare sector, and is available free here.
Unique arts-based research programmes
Performing Medicine also leads on a number of research programmes investigating the impact of COVID-19 on the sector’s workforce and the powerful contribution of arts-based techniques to support staff and patients.
We are currently partnering on a unique research programme to explore ways to support frontline healthcare professionals with self-care and how to communicate effectively with colleagues and patients during the pandemic. The programme, ‘Communicating through COVID: Supporting healthcare professionals’ non-verbal communication through arts-based education’, is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the UK Research and Innovation rapid response to COVID-19.
It is a multidisciplinary partnership which brings together arts organisations, NHS trusts, and academia, and is a collaboration between Performing Medicine, People’s Palace Projects, and Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry and the Department of Drama at Queen Mary University of London.
The 18-month research programme will harness ideas and techniques employed by world-class artists, actors, musicians, choreographers, and voice coaches to design training and support to help the NHS workforce meet the current communication challenges of COVID-19.
Equality, diversity and inclusion
The pandemic has starkly revealed health inequalities nationwide and has also shone a light on the structural racism of our health and education systems. Arts approaches are good at addressing challenging subject matter and have an important role to play in creating a fairer, more equal, more accountable health service. Performing Medicine is currently developing sessions focusing on equality, diversity and inclusion with colleagues at Barts & The London Medical School.
Performing Medicine, an initiative founded by charity Clod Ensemble, provides art-based training programmes for health and social care professionals to support mental health and wellbeing. Follow on Twitter @PerformingMed1