It’s OK to not be OK

How are you? Three simple words which convey a wealth of meaning as expressions of enquiry, of concern, and of genuine care. Of course, in the spirit of the stiff British upper lip the instinctive answer is to say that you are OK. But there are times when giving that answer is to deny yourself and to deny the people around you the chance to help.

Quite simply, it’s OK to not be OK.

Acknowledging this, the BMA’s General Practice branch has come up with a ten point plan to help their colleagues to manage in stressful times. Quite frankly, many of the suggestions could equally apply not only to practitioners across the health service but in other walks of life as well.

The plan includes some of the more obvious coping strategies such as providing access to support groups, pairing less experienced staff with more experienced colleagues, and rotating staff between high and low stress activities. But it also stresses the need for people to check in with each other, for individuals to feel able to speak up if they are struggling and for senior staff to stress the message that it is OK to not be OK.

The overall message is simple, health practitioners cannot provide the best levels of care for patients if they are in need of care themselves. And right now that’s a challenge. Statistic after statistic demonstrate just how much strain the health service is under. A BMA analysis in September 2022 talks about a growing backlog of care with one in eight people in England waiting for treatment.  

And despite the announcement of some thirty-five thousand new healthcare support workers having signed up to join the NHS in 2022, the pressure to provide the highest level of care for patients still remains. That’s’ why statistics which were released earlier in 2022 with revealed that across the country there were more than one million missed appointments each month are so disconcerting. When demand for services is already high, optimising face-to-face or face-to-screen time is key to ensuring that as many people as possible are able to receive the treatment they need as early as possible.

In response to these statistics the then Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, floated the idea of charging no-shows £10 a time. The response to this proposal was mixed; but there are other ways of helping to ensure that people are more likely to attend booked appointments. Simple solutions such as sending out appointment reminders by SMS text have been shown to reduce the number of missed appointments. And for those health practitioners who charge for their services, being able to take credit or debit card details at the time of booking and to charge a fee if the patient fails to turn up for their appointment has proved to be another way of boosting attendances.

What do simple steps such as these have to do with practitioner health? Well, when the pressure is on, sitting waiting for a no-show whilst being aware that you could have been treating someone else can be a source of frustration and stress. Taking even simple steps to optimise patient access may not seem like much but they could have positive results for patients and for health practitioners alike.