Unique research programme investigates impact of arts-based methods to support NHS staff during Covid-19

Performing Medicine, specialists in arts-based professional development and healthcare education, is partnering on a unique research programme to explore ways to support frontline healthcare professionals with self-care and how to communicate effectively with colleagues and patients during the pandemic. The project will support those working in health to meet the challenges of wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and adapting to digital consultations and meetings.

The research programme, a multidisciplinary partnership, brings together arts organisations, NHS trusts, and academia, and is a collaboration between Performing Medicine, People’s Palace Projects, and Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry and the Department of Drama at Queen Mary University of London.

The programme, ‘Communicating through covid: Supporting healthcare professionals’ non-verbal communication through arts-based education’, is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the UK Research and Innovation rapid response to Covid-19.

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 of Covid-19.

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

Professor Suzy Willson, Principal Investigator on the project and Director at Performing Medicine, an initiative founded by charity Clod Ensemble said, “The need to wear PPE, to socially distance, and the move to digital consultation has 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, 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, said, "All over the world people are coming to understand the important role that the arts must play in responding to this pandemic. The work that Suzy Willson, the Clod Ensemble and 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 United Kingdom."

Graham Easton, Co-Investigator at Barts and QMUL said, “This project should make a real difference to health professionals’ communication and well-being 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 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, that can be widely shared across the UK.

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