Because this last month, many of us have been – literally and figuratively – on the road again. There is a sense of returning normality to our lives, and many of us are increasingly spending time connecting with each other and reclaiming old or establishing new activities – outside of the house.
One of the things many of us lost during the most difficult stages of the pandemic was – outside of the ED – the pleasure of connecting with people in real-life.
We did our best. We “pivoted”; we Zoomed, we FaceTimed, we sent texts, and emails. We spoke on the phone. We WhatsApped and Signalled. We got used to it. But we lost touch with how it feels to be in space with many of our people. Of the warmth and ease and filling-up that we get from human connection.
Now, the world is open again, and we are tentatively but excitedly finding our feet, and each other.
I am pleased to say that I am physically on the road again – in a COVID safe way, of course. For the first time in my presidency, I have been able to visit emergency departments in person – other than the one I work in, of course.
Since I last wrote to you, I was privileged to visit EDs in Hobart, Launceston and Townsville. I know that every single FACEM and trainee is dedicated and collaborative – EM is a team sport – but I was inspired and so impressed by the cohesive nature of each of the groups that I met where I went. I spoke with ED leaders dedicated to building positive cultures and collaborating to deliver excellent care. I met FACEMs doing interesting and life-sustaining things. And perhaps most importantly, I spent time with trainees, who told me of their experiences and ideas, and who have reassured me that the future of EM is in very safe hands.
In Hobart, the Tasmanian faculty Chair, Dr Juan Carlos Ascencio-Lane and I were also privileged to meet with the Tasmanian Health Minister, and now Premier, Jeremy Rockcliff, to discuss the growing pressures on the Tasmanian health system.
Thank you to everyone who met with me, and who shared your time, thoughts and feelings with me. Connecting with you each in person was powerful. I feel renewed. It is an honour to represent you, and one I take very seriously.
I look forward to meeting more of you soon. In coming weeks, I have trips planned to South East Queensland, Victoria and the ACT, and, now that the borders have opened, there are plans for me to visit Aotearoa New Zealand very soon.
But, as always, it isn’t all good news. As the world returns to normal – whatever that means these days – presentations to EDs are on the rise, rebounding back to pre-pandemic levels, and beyond.
As normality returns, planes take to the sky, camping trips are back on, kids are on the sporting fields, and all the other outdoor activities resume, we are all seeing more accidents, falls and injuries. This is on top of ongoing COVID-19, catching up with the complications of delayed care, and the mental health crisis. We are trying to manage all of this under the crushing weight of access block. And this is before winter hits. We know from our colleagues in the UK that we are likely to face high levels of flu, gastro and other viral illnesses when people gather together inside as the weather starts to cool.
We know this is experienced everywhere, but we know also that our colleagues based in rural, regional and remote areas experience these challenges most significantly.
And it isn’t just the populations we serve that are affected. We healthcare workers are all out in the world, too, and we’re getting sick – or our families and loved ones are – and, as we know, every sniffle must be treated like a potential case of COVID-19.
Our workforce issues are growing. Rosters are thin as we care for family members with COVID and try to catch up on much-needed leave and renewal.
This year ACEM’s Wellness Week, that runs from the 8 – 14 May, focuses on the theme of reflect, restore and recover. If possible, I encourage you each to connect with this initiative and to take part in activities.
But, as we know, genuine wellbeing at work can come only when the structural issues that plague the health systems we work within are addressed.
To that end, we are pleased to see commitments to addressing the healthcare workforce emergency in pre-electoral pledges. We’ve also seen commitments on ACEM’s priority issues for the election: aged care and the NDIS. With just three weeks to go, we strongly hope we see more commitments and real leadership on health. We also hope that voters vote like their health depends on it. Because it does.
But regardless of what further commitments we see, or the outcome of the election, please know that your college will continue to advocate and push for better. For better access to care, better outcomes and better patient and clinician experiences. Because we will never, ever let the idea that what we are experiencing across the health system is ‘normal’ stick. Because it is not normal. It isn’t safe. It certainly isn’t fair. And it can be fixed.
Until then, as always, whatever the next month brings we will get through it together.
Thank you, for all that you do.
Dr Clare Skinner