Shielding during the coronavirus pandemic is not a choice, it's a clinical requirement. So staff who have a health issue or take medication which means their bodies will struggle to fight the virus, have had to work from home since the end of March. This is a worrying time for them, on a lot of levels, so senior managers at ELFT invited them to join to a virtual meeting to hear how they have been getting on, ask questions and share their expereinces.
Over 70 staff joined the meeting which was led by Deputy Director of People and Resources, Donna Willis, Director of Operations, Edwin Ndlovu and Executive Director of Commercial Development, Dr Mohit Venkataram. The themes which emerged from the session were moving and thought-provoking.
< We asked, what has been your greatest source of support?
Fit, Healthy and ... Vulnerable?
Edwin warmly welcomed everyone. He set the scene by sharing that as a 40+ BAME male, he had felt quite shocked to realise that though he felt fit and healthy, he was now regarded as someone in a high-risk group for COVID-19. He said that many shielding staff, who over the years have been quietly getting on with their lives and their careers whilst managing their health, must have been similarly shocked to get a letter from their GP advising them to shield. There was strong agreement from attendees about this point.
Mohit shared his own health issues with the group. He said that he didn't feel like a vulnerable person, but on paper, he clearly was! He said how hard it was to be away from the office and the formal and informal contact you have with colleagues. From staff comments, this resonated with many at the meeting.
The Lifting of Restrictions Brings New Concerns
He also said that the lifting of restrictions brought with it new concerns when you were someone for whom contracting coronavirus could have devastating consequences. He cited the example of his children going back to school. He and his wife debated what this meant for them as a family but the children had really missed their friends and wanted to go back. So, knowing they would have contact with a wide range of children and teachers, they had to work out how to manage their return to the home (changing their clothes, showering, handwashing) without alarming them.
The meeting then opened to others. Donna set up a mentimeter voting/comment system for people to shared their thoughts and feelings anonymously if they wished to.
Guilt and Anxiety
Many staff commented to say they had a sense of guilt about not being in the workplace while colleagues continued working on wards or in community settings. Some speculated about what their managers privately thought as time went on. Others said they wanted their manager to know that working from home was not their choice, that if they could be in the workplace, that they would be. Many worried for their career and their future. Until there is a vaccine, some wondered if they would be able to return to their patient-facing roles. There was concern that as people started to return to more normal social patterns that the risk of the spread of coronavirus increased. Many described experiencing anxiety, low mood and depression.
All said how good it was to get together with others in the same position, and share worries and concerns. It felt as if there was a collective digital sigh of relief for the participants as they identified with the feelings expressed.
Edwin Ndlovu said, "It was clear to me that shielding staff have suffered. They have had to contend with all the change and worry that we have all had, but they have had heavy worries on top of that. I wanted to say to each and everyone of them, it is not your fault that you find yourself in this position; that we know this, that we understand and that we will do what we can to support you going forward. I am grateful for their openness and honesty about their feelings during this time."
Mohit shared his top tips/five rules for coping with long periods in the home. These included staying mentally fit, staying physically fit, staying actively connected with work, connecting with family/friends and finally the magic rule, ensuring the extra time that has been given to us is used to complete one key task that they feel passionate about like reading a book, learning a language or baking, etc.
Colleague Support There are things that we can all do to support our shielding colleagues: pick up the phone and have a chat, send a friendly text, text a joke, tell them the latest gossip! Let them know that they are still very much part of your team, send queries or questions that they can help you with, get them to sort out leaving pressies/maternity gifts, and pick their brains.
Manager Support Although it may be a challenge practically to cover services or plan for your service, shielding is not a choice, it's a clinical requirement. Managers should check-in with staff who are shielding, reassure them, ensure they are part of meetings, and feel occupied and involved with the work of the team. Shielding staff may be able to undertake special projects in lieu of workplace tasks.
It was agreed that this would be the first of several get-togethers for Shielding staff. Thank you to everyone for their contribution.
Mentimeter and Wordcloud
These six slides reflect the discussion, themes and comments shared during the meeting: Shielding Staff Community Key Themes
National NHS Resource for Shielding Staff
NHSE have pulled together some national guidance on shielding and supporting staff to come back to the workplace. This guide is designed to help:
- People who have been shielding as they slowly start to return to work to feel less anxious and more supported.
- Work colleagues and managers to understand what it may have been like for people who have shielded and how to compassionately welcome them back into the workplace.