A pilot scheme, giving NHS healthcare workers a chance to try creative writing as a potential support for wellbeing during the pandemic, has won national recognition.
The programme, designed for an NHS Trust, involved writing workshops that gave participants prompts and exercises which encouraged them to be expressive about their life, work and feelings through the medium of stories and poems.
The project was undertaken with NHS North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust. It was recently first in the Bright Ideas in Health Awards, taking the honours in the category: helping our workforce to recover from the pandemic. The judges termed it “a unique and innovative collaboration”.
The scheme began in the autumn of 2020 and whilst initially aimed at in-person workshops, the ensuing lockdowns meant that it was quickly moved online and there was an inevitable impact on how many people could get involved due to the pressures on staff. There were two groups, taking four sessions each. All clinical staff at this acute hospital were invited and the groups had a mix of occupational therapists, palliative care nurses and doctors as well as pharmacists and nurses’ aides.
A total of 26 staff signed up and took the course; a third of these were impacted by Covid, with their ability to attend all sessions affected, but everyone was encouraged to continue therapeutic creative writing between sessions with the provision of a creative writing workbook.
The team received overwhelmingly positive feedback for the project: one hundred percent of participants said they felt that they would “benefit from further participation in creative writing”, whilst a further 100% also believed that “it was a good use” of their time taking part in the workshops.
Describing scenes and metaphor-making
Word of mouth also brought wider interest and involvement from those who could not attend and as a result a bespoke Creative Writing Handbook for Health Care Workers was created by the team as a toolkit for Health Care Workers. A further competition in creative writing also drew in over 60 entries.
The workshops began with Dr Siobhan Campbell, a senior lecturer of creative writing, introducing works of poetry as a way to begin writing in response. These included ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver.
The workshops looked at other poems, reflecting, moving from the creative to the expressive and they involved exercises, describing scenes and the uses of metaphor-making.
Extracts from the feedback by participants talking of the benefits of the creative workshops stated:
“I find that in my writing I can say things that I otherwise find it difficult or in fact impossible to express.”
“This gave me the opportunity to reflect upon difficult situations and gave me thinking space to do that.”
“I found creative writing a welcome distraction from thinking about the stressful situation at work clinically, and helpful to share experienced of working through COVID-19 with my colleagues in a different way.”
Dr Campbell, who has over 20 years of experience in Creative Writing pedagogy, including work with novice writers and in arts-based research projects in clinical and non-clinical arenas, 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.”
Building on this pilot, the Creative Writing Handbook for Health Care Workers can be used in future pandemic or crisis situations. There is a further roll-out of the project planned with the same NHS Trust and with Newcastle Hospitals Charity.
Dr Campbell, Senior Lecturer of Creative Writing, worked with Dr Sally Blackburn-Daniels, also of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the OU, in tandem with Dr Donna Wakefield, and Nurse Practitioner Mel McEvoy of NT&H NHS Trust. The team have now submitted a paper for publication as a result of the project.
As Nurse Practitioner Mel McEvoy (who took his MA in Creative Writing at the OU) says:
“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.”
The next step is a multi-site study to gather evidence of effectiveness of this intervention on a larger scale. Taking it forward to look at rolling out once again in the Spring with both Tyne Tees and Newcastle Upon Tyne NHS Healthcare Trust.