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Launch of Creative Writing Handbook for Health Care Workers

Book jacket for Creative Writing for Healthcare Workers

The Creative Writing Handbook for Health Care Workers is the result of The Open University and North Tees and Hartlepool Foundation Trust joining forces on a pilot to establish whether Creative Writing practice could reduce stress and improve mental wellbeing in Health Care Workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pilot was devised and facilitated by Dr Siobhan Campbell (English and Creative Writing, FASS, OU), poet and social literary practitioner, with Mel McEvoy (Nurse Consultant in Cancer and Palliative Care) and Dr Donna Wakefield (Consultant in Palliative Medicine). This involved eight workshops over three months for Health Care Workers at the NHS Trust. The exercises completed during the workshops, and feedback from participants has enabled researchers to develop this standalone toolkit for Health Care Workers, which will be available as both an eBook and print copy and available in all wards at the North Tees & Hartlepool Trust.

Participants in the pilot noted that the ‘workshops helped me to feel good about myself’ and that the Creative Writing exercises ‘helped me to express myself’. In an adapted Warwick-Edinburgh scale of psycho-social well-being, participants reported reductions in stress, and increased ability to cope. Participants were doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and pharmacists who delivered care in C19. Their writing shared powerful moments of personal experience, such as:

Unwritten letter to my nan: Hi nan, it’s been a while and we miss you. The world has gone a bit mad. I’d love you to still be around but you wouldn’t like it here any more. No visitors, no hugs, no bingo - hopefully one day these things will be here again. I’d hate you to be lonely again. It’s not the world you came into or left, or where I’d want you to be.

And:

I only cry at night. That’s when I allow myself to cry. So I can function in the day. 

As a result of the workshops the Trust organised a Creative Writing competition ‘Working in a Time of COVID-19’ with Siobhan and the OU’s Dr Jo Reardon as judges. As part of the ongoing community of Creative Writing practice at the hospital, a competition Showcase was organised with a prize giving, and a ‘Celebration of Excellence’ will show recordings of competition entrants works to the Trust on May 28th 2021.

Previously, Siobhan was Principal Investigator on a project involving the use of creative writing in End of Life Care with Royal Trinity Hospice. Co-author of The Expressive Life Writing Handbook, her work in adapting writing pedagogies in communities led to projects with patients and clinicians as well as military veterans and rights activists. Mel worked on wards during Covid-19 and in providing psycho-social support to fellow staff. He is author of Listening to the family’s voice: to improve symptom control and communication (2018), a project which used diaries as a method of supporting expression.

This work was funded by The Open University’s rapid response COVID-19 research funding scheme: Covid-19-Creative Writing with Health Care Workers Research Project. Find out more about the project.

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