Exploring the role of the arts in supporting frontline NHS staff during COVID pandemic

Multi-disciplinary research to investigate potential impact of arts-based interventions on NHS staff during COVID

Communicating Through COVID is helping to support healthcare professionals improve non-verbal communication through arts-based education

A unique research programme has been launched exploring ways to support healthcare professionals working on the COVID-19 frontline using arts-based education.

The multidisciplinary research brings together arts organisations, NHS trusts, and academia, and is a collaboration between specialists in arts-based professional development and healthcare education, Performing Medicine; People’s Palace Projects; Clod Ensemble; University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust; Swansea Bay University Health Board; Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry; and the department of drama at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

Known as Communicating through COVID: Supporting healthcare professionals’ non-verbal communication through arts-based education, the project is being funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the UK Research and Innovation rapid response to COVID-19.

It will look at ways to support those working in health to meet the challenges of wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and adapting to digital consultations and meetings.

"All over the world people are coming to understand the important role that the arts must play in responding to this pandemic

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.

Through a series of interviews with healthcare professionals and medical students, it will investigate the impact of COVID-19 on the verbal and non-verbal communication between colleagues and patients.

And new courses and resources will be co-designed based on the findings.

Professor Suzy Willson, principal investigator on the project, and director at Performing Medicine, said: “The need to wear PPE, to socially distance, and the move to digital consultation have presented new challenges to health workers, many of whom are experiencing feelings of isolation and separation, or finding it difficult to attend to their own needs at this time.

“The project, built on near 20 years of my work with Performing Medicine, will harness ideas and techniques employed by artists, actors, choreographers, and voice coaches to develop courses and resources to help healthcare workers meet these current challenges.”

Paul Heritage, co-investigator and People's Palace Projects Arts director, added: "All over the world people are coming to understand the important role that the arts must play in responding to this pandemic.

It’s exciting to be combining insights and ideas from both medicine and the arts and humanities – it’s so often these interdisciplinary collaborations that deliver genuine innovation

“The work that Suzy Willson, the Clod Ensemble, and the Performing Medicine team do to support frontline healthcare professionals and patients has never been more vital, and the exchange of knowledge and ideas with People's Palace Projects will enrich COVID-19 arts-based projects that we are undertaking in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and the UK.”

And Graham Easton, co-investigator at Barts and QMUL, told BBH: “This project should make a real difference to healthcare professionals’ communication and wellbeing during COVID.

“It’s especially exciting to be combining insights and ideas from both medicine and the arts and humanities – it’s so often these interdisciplinary collaborations that deliver genuine innovation.”

The research will generate evidence concerning the challenges facing healthcare professionals and the efficacy of arts-based approaches in supporting them during the pandemic, enabling the development of methodologies that can be scaled alongside a series of resources to promote best practice, which can then be widely shared across the UK.

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