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OU researchers’ creative wellbeing support for pandemic healthcare workers wins award

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The Bright Ideas in Health Awards has honoured Dr Siobhan Campbell and Dr Sally Blackburn-Daniels for an innovative pilot scheme that encouraged NHS healthcare workers to try creative writing to enhance their wellbeing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The creative writing experts from the OU’s Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences collaborated with North Tees and Hartlepool Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust on the Autumn 2020 pilot project. It invited clinical staff at the hospital, from occupational therapists and palliative care nurses to doctors and pharmacists, to express their feelings about their lives and work during this challenging period through the medium of stories and poems.

In recognising the scheme in the category ‘helping our workforce to recover from the pandemic’, the judges praised the “unique and innovative collaboration”.

Although initially planned as face-to-face events, the OU team drew on its online distance learning expertise to quickly move the programme online when the UK Government tightened restrictions in winter 2020.

Participants’ positive feedback and interest from colleagues across the hospital and beyond led Campbell and Blackburn-Daniels to develop a bespoke Creative Writing Handbook for healthcare workers. They now plan to extend the scheme with the trust and Newcastle Hospitals Charity and have submitted a paper on the project for publication.

Commenting on the project, Dr Campbell said: “Our aim was to evaluate whether these techniques had the potential to provide support to frontline healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of preventing burnout and long-term mental health problems such as PTSD.

“This pilot shows creative writing workshops to be a feasible and welcome intervention in providing support to healthcare workers facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Although numbers are small, a positive impact was felt by those who participated.”

Nurse Practitioner Mel McEvoy of NT&H NHS Trust, and OU MA in Creative Writing graduate, said: “Creative writing can cut across the dry medical language, enabling staff to value and record experience in memorable ways, allowing them to develop further empathy and understanding which supports both themselves and others.”

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