Women sitting in hospital waiting room

Waiting Times conference to change narratives & influence best practice

An international conference that is set to be held in London this month will examine the findings from a five-year study exploring the concept of waiting for healthcare in modern Britain, the University of Exeter has announced.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust and led by the University of Exeter and Birkbeck, University of London, Waiting Times will bring together health sector and academia delegates from every corner of the globe.

The researchers, service-users and health professionals have combined on several projects, ranging from uncovering the history of waiting in the NHS, all the way to developing narratives and creating art pertaining to the experience of waiting.

For the event, approximately 100 people will congregate at Friends House in the capital on the 28th and 29th of March; the organisers hope that, by channelling the knowledge and expertise of the attendees, the event’s outcomes can go onto influence best practice across the health and care industry.

Professor of Modern Literature and Medical Humanities at the University of Exeter, Laura Salisbury, said: “People perceive waiting as the health system not working, but waiting is a fundamental aspect of care. It is there in the time it takes to access services; through the days, weeks, months or years needed for diagnoses; in the time that treatment takes; and in the elongated timeframes of recovery, relapse, remission and dying.

“Waiting Times set out to understand the difficulties and significance for care in an era where time is experienced at increasingly different and complex tempos. This conference will enable us to stimulate conversation and potentially influence best clinical practice on how we use waiting as an active practice of care, and how we can take care of people who are waiting.”

The Waiting Times initiative was initially launched in 2017 with a £1.2m grant and has centred around different topics, including the idea of ‘watchful waiting’ and the various historical and cultural perspectives on waiting.

The research team also engaged with children and young people’s mental health services, hospices and GP clinics to support both patients and staff look at their experiences of time in relation to their care, illness and wellbeing in a different way. Such work will be showcased on a new website that will also feature at the conference.

Co-lead of the project and Professor of Psychosocial Theory at Birkbeck, Lisa Baraitser, added: “We are at a difficult juncture for the NHS, where waiting times have become a political football to justify the need for restructure and reform, as though time can simply be made more efficient or cost-effective.

“The concern is that this is becoming a dangerous distraction from the slower work of care that involves the therapeutic use of time. Of course, no one should be forced to wait in situations that are medically dangerous, or when a quick intervention will improve clinical outcomes.

“But there needs to be greater recognition that waiting is not simply the opposite of care, and that by focusing on the ‘quantity of time’ we are losing sight of the ‘quality of time’ needed to care for many people with long-term conditions.”

For more information on the Waiting Times event, click here.

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