For the JC March 2021
Every one of us has had cause to think about the state of the nation’s health in the past year or so — our own health and that of the NHS, our admired, derided, under-funded and perhaps over-managed system. It has struggled to deal with the pandemic and the stories, sometimes harrowing, often heroic, from the front-line doctors and nurses, have now become familiar to us all.
Now, thanks to two Jewish professionals, Hope Samuel and David Ian Neville, there is a different way to look at the NHS, through Healthworker Talk, a series of fascinating podcasts talking to staffers in a variety of different disciplines. The subjects come from different areas of the NHS, mainly “non-pandemic” areas.
Each episode runs between 30 and 40 minutes and features Hope, a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist from London who has worked in the NHS for more than 30 years, in conversation with a health professional and talking to them about their job.
Hope says: “I have always been curious about what people do at work, where they spend so many hours every day. But the idea for the podcasts came from the time I spent in working for a mental health trust, on various training courses. For me, it was always most interesting to talk to the other people on the courses. I thought it would be a good idea to look at something to improve staff morale — for various reasons it didn’t happen, but I was still thinking about it.”
When, as the pandemic deepened and there was more and more talk about the NHS, she wondered if people would be interested in finding out more about the vast array of input from the NHS “army” of health workers. And thus, the podcasts were born.
What all the conversations have in common is that almost all of those talking are rarely doing just one job. These people are fearsome multi-taskers, either doing several different things during their working week or doing a main job and then volunteering as well.
“The further up the ladder you go, the more strings you will have to your bow,” believes Hope, who does the interviews, while David, a former BBC radio producer, now based in Edinburgh, does all the editing and preparation for podcast.
Among the subjects of this first season of six podcasts is Charles Daniels, a consultant in palliative care — those who deal with patients at the end of their lives, who talks about what can be considered “a good death”, and the creativity required when the pandemic has prevented palliative care-givers dealing with patients directly.
At the other end of the scale from Mr Daniels is an unnamed junior doctor, who, when Hope interviewed him, was six months into his first stint after qualification. The pandemic has meant that rather than specialise in gastro-related problems, junior doctors like him have to deal with a vast array of medical conditions — as he tells Hope, “everything that isn’t surgery”.
There is Alistair, a social worker in a mental health rehabilitation team. Listeners find out what he does to help his patients leaving psychiatric hospitals, to settle in the community.
Or there is Hannah, a dietitian working in a community learning disabilities team. She speaks about what it’s like to do the job, what motivates and what frustrates her and how she and her team have managed in the pandemic. In her spare time Hannah has set up and runs a charity providing food for the homeless.
Jane is a district nurse working in a new job created during the pandemic, to speed up the time it takes to discharge people from hospital. She explains some of the tricky situations she needs to sort out and the rewards and challenges of doing so.
Rebecca, meanwhile, is a different sort of nurse: she is a community nurse and expert in organisational change and management. She discusses the reasons for her change from clinician to manager and back again — and what each role is like.
“Everybody in the NHS will have their own clinical skill — and then their relationship with patients and how that works”, says Hope. This first group emerged from personal contacts, but there are likely to be subsequent seasons with a new range of people with varied skill-sets.
Had anything surprised her, despite her long career in the NHS? “Certainly. I was shocked that a consultant in palliative care couldn’t get access to the wards because of the pandemic; I was appalled at a young social worker having to sit on the phone for 45 minutes to the Department of Work and Pensions, what a waste of time. The thing that didn’t surprise me was the IT problems that some people have.”
For David Neville, who worked for the BBC for 25 years, there were other surprises. He was used to the complexities of a large organisation; but was intrigued, for example, to hear about the experience of Alistair, the young social worker, whose clients, during the pandemic, were faced with shops refusing cash, and only accepting credit or debit cards. Many of Alistair’s clients did not have bank accounts, David said, providing yet another hurdle for social workers to deal with. “As I listened to the interviews, when editing them, I realised there were an extraordinary number of people who go the extra mile for their job”.