Moving beyond the ennui

by Caroline Clarke

27 November 2020

There may be a general malaise around Covid, but there is blue sky on the horizon

Hi everyone. As we head towards the end of a national lockdown with increasing talk of vaccines and a spending review thrown in for good measure, it’s been hard to decide what to write about this month. I’m spoilt for choice.

The spending review delivered the extra £3bn for the NHS that had been trailed in advance. While the day itself was all about the headlines – the recovery package, capital funding (including four years of money specifically for the hospital building programme), NHS-specific pay rises and Covid funding – the real story will as ever be in the detail.

Recovering from a pandemic is going to take years and we are going to have to put aside some important pieces of work in order to recover. So the settlement needs to come with a recognition of what can realistically be achieved in the course of a year and an understanding of the higher costs of running normal services in parallel with Covid care.

And within the capital settlement it will be important that there is enough funding to support investment in the NHS digital infrastructure so we can get to a place that compares with other developed countries and industries. 2020 accelerated our use of remote technology and a virtual world in an unpredicted leap, and we really need to take the chance to build on this.

We face major challenges ahead and what is obvious to me is how tired everyone is. My clinical colleagues are maxed out, human resources and finance are stretched like rubber bands, and the digital team has disappeared under a gargantuan pile of remote working requests. Even my sunny optimism is being tested.  

(If you’re really interested in what’s going on in hospitals, have a look at the documentary series Hospital on BBC2, which shows what the Royal Free has been doing over the last few months to get restarted and rebuild services.  It’s been a strange experience having cameras in, but I hope the tale we tell resonates with colleagues round the country.) 

I think there might be a general malaise around Covid – when will it really end; I’m over it; I want to see my family; I want to go to the pub etc.  If you’ve read The Plague by Albert Camus, it’s all familiar. The French have a great word – ennui. Literally, it describes a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. So that might not apply to work life, which is as crazy as it’s ever been. But all the conversations I have about wider life point to a more general ennui.   

But.... there is blue sky on the horizon. We are rolling out fast testing for our staff. Brilliant!  It will make such a difference to how we staff and deliver care in all care settings.  And the potential vaccines are looking good, with roll-out plans being hatched as I write. The independent scientific assurance is being gathered, and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is working its socks off. If it all goes according to plan, we must get in the queue with our sleeves rolled up. It’s the only way we’re going to get the economy back on the road.

In the meantime, break your ennui by coming to our annual conference, which starts on 30 November. It’s going to be the biggest and the best ever, allowing you to take stock of how weird 2020 has been, and how we can gather some energy and focus for the future. Of course it’s virtual, but we have four times the number of registered delegates because of that, and an array of speakers who we just wouldn’t be able to cram in if we were meeting in person. So a huge shout out for the HFMA crew who have made this happen, and let’s Take pride in our future