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Talking stress, pressure and wellbeing

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Every week, it seems, there are reports of NHS budget cuts and deficits that ultimately lead to reductions in staff and resources. That in turn increases the pressure on existing staff ultimately resulting in low morale and sickness in the NHS. And that was the theme of MASCIP’s (Multidisciplinary Association of Spinal Cord Injury Professionals) 16th annual conference last week – The Wellbeing of Health Staff. It was a particularly apt as the audience was made up of physios, OTs, consultants, case managers, and other professionals – including solicitors like me – all with an interest in spinal cord injury. Here’s a run down of some of the speakers who struck a chord with me.

Dr Steve Dorman, chief medical adviser at Capita Insurance, and author of the 2009 NHS Health & Wellbeing review gave a really interesting talk. He detailed the links between staff health, organisational success and patient outcomes highlighting the importance of employers promoting healthy initiatives for staff. I was staggered to learn that the cost to the NHS of absence is a staggering £1.5bn a year. Interestingly, staff members who exercised not only have less time off sick but also had better cognitive performance.

We also heard from Dr Allison Graham, consultant in spinal injuries at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, about the use of the “Schwartz Round”. This is a forum for clinical and non-clinical staff who meet once a month to discuss feelings and emotions through story-telling. Dr Graham explained its importance at Stoke Mandeville as it enables staff to discuss things without judgement or hierarchy. Staff studies show that such forums can improve attendance, retention and team building.

Simon Barnes, a Masters student at Bangor University, uses mindfulness to reduce stress. He demonstrated the technique to show how it relaxes the mind back into moment to moment awareness and thereby creates space to consider more creative options. Once Simon has qualified as a mindfulness teacher he wants to run courses for people with an acquired disability, drawing on his personal experience having sustained a spinal cord injury.

Dave Bracher, a vocational advisor for the Spinal Injuries Association (SIA), updated us on the priority setting of spinal cord injury research. Last month a survey of 403 people with an interest in SCI identified the top ten research priorities including research into whether FES and stem cell therapy improve outcomes after SCI, and the effects of ageing after SCI. The research priorities inform the scope and activities of funders and researchers. For more information see our blog Brethertons work with the SIA from 30 October 2014.

If next year’s MASCIP conference, scheduled for 12 November 2015, is as interesting and stimulating as this, I’ll be there.

MASCIP was founded in 1997 to establish a professional association for all the disciplines working with and on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries.

Alison is an associate in the Spinal Injury team at Brethertons, specialising in personal injury and clinical negligence claims. Email her at or follow her @spinallawyer.