The profession must be applauded for taking all communications and meetings online. We have adapted to the COVID crisis in a remarkably short period of time. .An ‘IT’ step for man and a giga step for mankind. Remarkably, it does feel as though we have always done IT this way because it feels so natural – but is it?
Screen fatigue is real – notwithstanding the effect on the eyes, the proper name being asthenopia, with redness and sometime blurring of vision, and concomitant headaches. There is also a serious effect on posture with back and neck pain. We are now spending our days internet hopping between, Zoom, Skype, MSN team and Starleaf - cloud pleasing at least! More meetings are crammed in the day and without the need to travel, they are back to back with the touch of a button. In an instant we materialise in a meeting with people from all over the planet. And, how can you forget when there are relentless prompts and reminders that are automatically uploaded to your diary? The day starts, runs, and ends with continual pings and notification bars.
There should be notifications bars for taking a rest and eating and enjoying the fresh air outside. The historical stroll from one meeting to another and the comfortable commute to another enabled time for reflection and digestion. These periods were welcomed contemplation breaks. Meeting breaks with coffee chats ignited ideas and stirred curiosity. The bumping of people into people is recognised by architects who have designed buildings like large hadron colliders as the see the benefits of unexpected quarks of conversations. Socialisation is the S in the SECI model of knowledge transfer.
But there is something more important. CPD, training and learning are the indispensable features of our jobs. I believe the primary purpose of the NHS should be to grow the staff - in order for the staff to deliver high quality care on the front line, we need to be given the time and space for that learning and acquisition of skills to occur. That time and space needs to be afforded during normal working hours. I am always dismayed that training in the form of journal clubs and skills labs feature as the prefix or suffix to a busy working day. The only time we could get everyone together was first thing in the morning because you could never guarantee that an operation or clinic would finish on time. We settled on 0800 hours but then other staff complained that ward round had to be done – they are correct because it is the early decision making on the wards that enables the ‘flow’ of the patients through otherwise a very constipated system. We then settled for 0700 hours and quite rightly the trainees rebelled as it was too early. We have never made learning during the working day a priority.
We go to work, and we are managing the COVID crisis and appear to have accepted that it is OK to end the day with Starleaf meeting between 2000 and 2100 hours. It appears that this is the new normal. Again, typical of health care workers we have found a way of working around the COVID crisis to maintain our necessary meeting and learning. We are participating in a system that does not provide the necessary time for us to learn. Our SPA’s are being usurped by the cumulonimbus clouds of the internet. We are living to work and not working to live. The evening, 2000 hours, should be family time and mealtime and hobby time and getting fit time and not another dreary weary webinar.
We are acting like ZOOMBIES – blindly accepting, cowardly complicit in a system that needs to recognise that if we do not grow staff, we will lose staff. If we do not value the individual or recognise their worth; they will not go home happy and fulfilled. Absenteeism, and workforce attrition is inevitable. People are NOT a resource and the eponym Human Resource fails to consider the profound responsibility of an organisation to their people. Likewise, our trainees are not ‘rota fodder’ or ‘prolene monkeys’. Organizations and trainers are touching people lives – we are stewards of people futures and aspirations. We do not have quality matrixes that reflect happy fulfilled lives, but Barry- Wehmiller do – they monitor the divorce rates. A surgical journal during my training was entitled ‘Knife before wife’. We now appear to be entering a situation where you might be saying ‘Web before partner’. Happy staff do make for happy patients.
The COVID crisis has taught us humility and understanding and patience. We should use this COVID crisis to reflect on the time and space necessary for education in the NHS. We need to start valuing the people. We have to think more holistically. I for one, do not wish to end up a ZOOMBIE with CPD as an eponym for Continual Personal Degradation. I want SPA to mean Supporting Development and not Substituting Peoples’ Aspirations.
About the author:
David O'Regan is the Director of the Faculty of Surgical Trainers. He has been a Consultant adult Cardiac Surgeon in Leeds since 2001.
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