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RCP vice president for Wales: Wellbeing – our patients, our families, ourselves

Dr Olwen Williams shares her thoughts on the wellbeing of our patients, our families and ourselves during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During this extended lockdown period, I have found myself focusing more and more on recovery. Not just for clinical services but also for us as physicians.  

The spread of COVID-19 has hit Wales at differing rates, first affecting the south before arriving in north Wales in early May. Throughout this unprecedented time, I have been inspired by how our NHS workforce has supported each other while working together across health and social care.

There has been phenomenal change in the way services are now being delivered, such as conducting virtual consultations via video or telephone. It is important that we adopt the positive changes but also deal with some of the concerns around potential harm arising from lockdown.

With change comes an unsettled feeling, with uncertainty comes anxiety – that sensation of not being in charge of one’s own destiny. This is a process we will all go through, whether on the ‘frontline’ or being ‘shielded’. This will also happen at different rates over the few weeks, months or years to come.

This is something that will affect our wellbeing, so now more than ever is the time to invest in some ‘self-care’. The RCP has some excellent resources, including the mental health and wellbeing resource. At RCP Cymru Wales, a group of senior fellows, a liaison psychiatrist and members of Health Education and Improvement Wales (HEIW) are working on a ‘Wellbeing Recovery Roadmap for Physicians’.

Wellbeing has been at the forefront of the weekly phone-ins with our chief medical officer in Wales, Dr Frank Atherton, who recognises that supporting our wellbeing includes access to an ample supply of correct PPE, and access to prompt COVID-19 testing and results. We have also made him aware that medical staff are exhausted.

I have had several important meetings recently on the issues facing our workforce.

At my virtual meeting with Dr Andrew Goodall, CEO of NHS Wales, I was able to relay our concerns on PPE, testing and wellbeing, along with the desire and need for training, teaching and continued professional development opportunities. It was encouraging to see these issues reflected in the ‘recovery’ plan for NHS Wales Quarter 1. RCP Cymru Wales has been pushing for a comprehensive post-COVID-19 rehabilitation plan and will continue to support this work going forward.

I have also met recently with the commissioners for Future Generations and Older People, as well as with the CEO of Bevan Commission. The overwhelming message throughout these meetings has been that we cannot go back to the old ways of working; we need to adopt the new things that show promise and let go of those that are unfit for purpose. As a royal college in Wales, this collective approach has been part of the RCP quality improvement (QI) COVID-19 recovery phase discussions and I value your opinions regarding how you see the way forward.

I will be giving evidence to Senedd Cymru’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee on Thursday 4 June. The results of the RCP’s three surveys of members and fellows on the impact of COVID-19 on the workforce will form part of our evidence base. Thank you for taking the time to respond to the surveys, your feedback has been very valuable.

Adopting videoconferencing as our platform for meetings has meant that college business has continued as close to normal as possible, along with a more carbon neutral footprint! We have had our Wales executive meeting, and RCP regional representatives and college tutors committee meetings over videoconference since lockdown.

The way we are learning has also changed – with webinars, virtual tutorials and the recently launched RCP Player. We are hoping that face-to-face conferences will start up in mid-September with our joint update in medicine with the Society of Physicians in Wales (SoPW) in the diary for November. Hence, we will be calling for abstract submissions for posters soon.

Over the past 9 weeks, I have valued the weekly communications from our president and registrar. Bod and Donal have exhibited true compassionate leadership in this crisis. The COVID-19 section of the RCP website has a wealth of information and collates all the medical specialist societies’ COVID-19 plans and is well worth visiting. The pace of change has been phenomenal, and communication is central.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you wish to offload.

Stay safe,