Looking after each other - a focused report on wellbeing for Paediatrics 2040

In February 2021, we published the conclusions of our Paediatrics 2040 project. In this blog Dr Seb Gray explains why we included a focused report on wellbeing and offers some practical thoughts on supporting the wellbeing of paediatricians into the future.

If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s how important it is to look after yourself and those you work with. Paediatric care in 2040 will rely on its workforce being happy and healthy and the College recognises how fundamental this is to providing the best possible care to our future patients.

To highlight this, a separate report specifically focussing on wellbeing (PDF) was commissioned as part of our Paediatrics 2040 project, looking to explore the current landscape, share current evidence and good practice and lay the foundations for ensuring wellbeing is prioritised for the future.

This project (see the Paediatrics 2040 microsite for the full report) conducted a ‘thought experiment’ across the College membership in February 2020. Over two-thirds of respondents referenced wellbeing as the top theme they wanted to be different about their working lives in 2040. Even prior to the pandemic reaching its first peak, the mood of the paediatric workforce was at its trough and some direct quotes are depicted in the word cloud below. 

Working lives - with other words used by members to represent this
Words used by members to represent 'Working lives'

To make paediatrics sustainable, physical, mental and psychological sustenance is essential. The child health engine can’t run on empty and exploring all the innovative projects happening across the UK confirms that there are indeed different strokes for different folks. For every person that finds knitting stress-relieving, there will be others where it invokes visions of doing unpleasant things with the needle.

It seems all the big governing and executive medical bodies within the UK are on the same page. Recent documents such as the NHS People Plan and the GMC’s “Caring for doctors, caring for patients” unite in supporting the workforce. These words act as reassurance and plant the seed of hope in the current workforce. Cultivating that hope by adding the College’s support is essential to persuade policy makers and service organisers that a happy workforce delivers better care. Intuitively and ethically, this is a no-brainer but it’s important to also highlight from a business sense that in the current financial climate, the NHS will only survive if its workforce pendulum swings away from burnout toward being well. Burnout correlates with worse patient care, increased mistakes, more sickness and increased risk of litigation precipitating and perpetuating a vicious cycle that becomes impossible to break.

Organisational wellbeing needs to be a recognised quality marker to ensure that aspirational thoughts manifest into practice. The body of wellness initiatives has grown but a robust evidence-base needs to be established to justify interventions to those unconvinced. For many aspects, one size will not fit all and the potential ideas are endless.

However, there are some fundamental principles that are essential to ensure universal wellbeing that neatly fit within the mnemonic, PAEDIATRICS:

  • Physical health
  • Autonomy 
  • Equality
  • Diversity
  • Inclusivity
  • Adaptability/ flexibility
  • Team (sense of belonging)
  • Rest
  • Individualised
  • Culture (open)
  • Safety

You can download a poster with this below.

The road to this future is long but it is a road that is being built. There are pioneers across the UK who have trail-blazed in various aspects of wellbeing. For example, those who have joined the College’s recently established equality, diversity and inclusivity member reference group have been incredible advocates to ensure that the College is appropriately challenged. We serve an incredibly diverse population and having such a rich diversity amongst the paediatric workforce augments this care. This diversity needs to transcend through all levels of the College and healthcare and organisations need to ensure every individual feels valued and included. 

We need to learn to be the example to the population we are trying to help. Only by looking after ourselves can we truly help others.

Wellbeing and our working lives have bidirectional causality. Paediatrics 2040 encompasses and recognises this. We’ve all experienced what it feels like to be hungry, angry, late or tired and how it can impact on our work, interactions and sense of wellbeing. Imagine a world where you have a fully staffed rota with cheerful, inspirational leaders and trainees whose training is prioritised and individualised to their strengths and needs. The NHS provides a service but service provision shouldn’t be the priority of paediatrics in 2040. Health is more than the absence of disease and similarly wellbeing is more than the absence of burnout. We need to learn to be the example to the population we are trying to help. Only by looking after ourselves can we truly help others. 

Whilst it’s tempting to keep our work rose-tinted, it’s also important to acknowledge the inexorable cohort of the workforce that will experience burnout. Changes take time and many individuals already teeter on the cusp of burnout. It’s okay not to be okay. There is no shame in admitting things have got too much and focus needs to switch to surviving before thriving. A collation of resources is hosted on this website.

We have a unique opportunity to create a happier, healthier workforce that will undoubtedly deliver higher quality care in paediatrics in 2040.

We want things to be better in the future. Change requires action and that can stall or stagnate during times of crisis or extreme pressure. For many, COVID-19 has introduced a host of negatives to their lives. However, the sense of union amongst the paediatric workforce and the rejuvenation of wellbeing as a priority has been a positive. All of us need to build upon this and allow it to snowball. We have a unique opportunity to create a happier, healthier workforce that will undoubtedly deliver higher quality care in paediatrics in 2040. We hope you embrace it and join us on the journey.

Download the in-depth look at wellbeing report (PDF)