With COVID-19 on the rise again, we thought now might be quite a good time to highlight ‘Distance Aware’ – a home-grown UK-wide initiative from one of our very own NHS Wales healthcare workers.

Helen Iliff is a Core Anaesthetic Trainee in the Wales Deanery. She is also a Bevan Health Technology Exemplar – part of a think tank helping to achieve more prudent and sustainable health care in Wales.

She is the face behind the Distance Aware campaigna national initiative to enable individuals and organisations to politely prompt ongoing distancing and respect of individual social space.

We caught up with her to find out a bit more…

Hi Helen, tell us a bit about yourself and your role as an anaesthetist? 

I’m a CT2 anaesthetics trainee based in Prince Charles Hospital. I love working in anaesthetics. The patient interactions and working with such amazing colleagues in theatres and on-call is without doubt the best part of the job.

If you don’t mind sharing a bit of your experience of the COVID pandemic, how it affected you and what prompted you to start the ‘Distance Aware’ Initiative? 

I have an underlying health condition for which I have been shielding as per government advice.

“Distance Aware” initially came about due to my own concerns around returning to work. I was worried that my colleagues may struggle to remember to socially distance due to the working environment, and this may put me at risk. I know none of them would ever do that on purpose and so started to ask the question – if I self-identified somehow as wanting others to maintain their distance – could that help? And if so how would I do it?

What is the Distance Aware Campaign? 

The Distance Aware campaign is a way for individuals and organisations to politely prompt ongoing social distancing and respect of individuals social space.

Through the use of a consistently recognisable symbol (a shield with a double-ended arrow) on a badge/lanyard/poster etc. we can provide prompts to help remind people to maintain distance wherever possible.

The scheme is open for everyone not just those shielding with the symbol chosen representing the fact we are all protected at a distance.

The campaign is endorsed by Welsh Government and the Department of Health and Social Care in England. There are now over 150 organisations (charities and businesses) involved and who have expressed their support for the initiative. 

What can we do in the clinical workspace to help support those returning from shielding? 

Returning from shielding is proving difficult for many. Whilst circumstances for different individuals vary it is important to provide support where possible.

It’s the simple things like asking people – are they ok? Signposting to places where they can get support, recognising and appreciating that whilst people haven’t been physically in work they have been contributing and working from home (often whilst managing other responsibilities like family and homeschooling), we haven’t all been on holiday.

Maintaining distancing and hygiene measures wherever possible in clinical settings is so important, the place most shielding people are scared of is the coffee room. If we all can do the simple measures well it will make a big difference and help everyone.

How can people share the message and get involved? 

You can get involved through a number of different ways. In Wales there are 330,000 Distance Aware badges and 40,000 lanyards that have been distributed to NHS Wales trusts. If you want to support social distancing in your department you can wear a badge or put up some posters. All of the resources and links to places to get badges and lanyards are available in English and Welsh on our website.

You can also tweet #DistanceAware on Twitter where we have put our own emoji that will add itself to the end of the hashtag.

We would encourage people to share though their networks to anyone who may be interested or they think could benefit.

Any advice for department or clinicians regarding shielding?  

Risk is dynamic and the relative risk to individuals who have been shielding is higher than the rest of the population.

It is important to keep the open conversation and listen to individuals concerns around working.

Have a contingency plan for shielding people should the incidence start to increase and there be a requirement to shield again. 

What are your plans for the campaign – what are you going to do next? 

We’ve now had the initiative endorsed in Wales and England. Discussions are ongoing with Scottish and Northern Irish governments and it would be great to have their endorsement also to make it a truly national scheme.

There are a number of large organisations who are now involved – ASDA, Madame Tussauds, Merlin Entertainment and Equiniti have expressed their support. It would be nice to see more companies self-identifying as Distance Aware organisations (similar to dementia-friendly cafes) which may then help give confidence to individuals who are nervous, enabling them to re-engage in some of the activities they previously did but are now scared of and have withdrawn from. 

Congratulations Helen on a wonderful initiative and good luck! We’re right behind you and are looking to order our badges and lanyards as soon as possible!

Do share this with your friends and colleagues – it’s not just for healthcare workers – we can all benefit from protecting each other.

Stay safe dear colleagues and keep well!

#distanceaware #lookaftereachother #staysafe #COVID19

@Distance Aware @iliff_helen @Bevancommission


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