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International conference set to showcase Birkbeck academic's research into waiting for healthcare in Britain

The conference, being held in London this month, will draw upon the findings of a five-year research project.

As NHS waiting lists dominate the news agenda, The Time of Care conference will see delegates from across health and higher education meet to explore the findings of a five-year study, entitled Waiting Times, that has looked at the relation between time and healthcare.

Waiting Times, funded by the Wellcome Trust and led by Birkbeck, University of London and the University of Exeter, has brought together researchers from a variety of disciplines, with patients and health professionals. Together, they have collaborated on several workstreams, from unearthing the history of waiting in the NHS, to creating narratives and art inspired and influenced by the experience of waiting.

Roughly 100 delegates from the UK and other countries as far afield as Australia are expected to attend the event, which will be held online and at Friends House in London, on the 28th and 29th March. The organisers hope that by bringing together researchers and practitioners, some of the findings will go on to influence best practice in the sector.

Professor Lisa Baraitser, Professor of Psychosocial Theory in the Department of Psychosocial Studies at Birkbeck and one of the co-leads of the project commented:

"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 distraction from the slower work of care that involves the therapeutic use of time.

"Of course, no one should have 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."

Launched in 2017 with a £1.2m grant from the Wellcome Trust, Waiting Times has consisted of several different workstreams. Among them has been an exploration of 'watchful waiting' and how it plays an important but underappreciated role in healthcare, particularly in General Practice. Another workstream sought a cultural and historical perspective on waiting, with researchers undertaking deep archival work, studying doctors' letters pages, patients' complaints, adverts, and clinic posters to understand how waiting has been framed at key points in British history.

"People perceive waiting as the health system not working, but waiting is a fundamental aspect of care" added Laura Salisbury, co-lead of the project and Professor of Modern Literature and Medical Humanities in the Wellcome Centre (Cultures and Environments of Health) at the University of Exeter. "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 waiting can be an active practice of care."

Other workstreams within Waiting Times saw academics engage with mental healthcare services for children and young people, and with hospices and GP clinics to help patients and staff create new narratives that reflected upon their experiences of time in relation to their healthcare, illness and wellbeing.

This work will be showcased via a new website that will remain live for the next five years as a legacy of the project, and will also feature at the conference, along with a performance from Martin O'Brien, a Leverhulme Prize winner, whose work explores themes of 'living beyond life expectancy'.

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