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AHRC supports British Library and University of Manchester project to help record the NHS voices of COVID-19

Date: 21/08/2020

A University of Manchester team of researchers and volunteers who have been documenting NHS voices of COVID-19 since March, are to join forces with the British Library thanks a grant of nearly £1m from UKRI’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Dr Stephanie Snow, who leads the influential ‘NHS at 70’ project, and her team have already collected over 200 COVID-19 voices, including Nick, the respiratory doctor who treated Prime Minister Boris Johnson in intensive care, Samuel a Nigerian nurse working on the front line of care in a London hospital, and Natalie, a patient and wheel chair user accessing GP services at home.

The grant from UK Research and Innovation, through the Arts and Humanities Research Council, will enable Dr Snow to link up with the British Library’s oral history department to form a permanent public resource which will also inform policy and practice.

The project - called ‘NHS Voices of Covid-19’ - is supported by a diverse group of stakeholders including the NHS, the TUC, Age UK, the Stroke Association and many other health, community and heritage organisations

Other participants in the project include patients, policymakers, frontline NHS staff, young people and individuals with high-risk conditions.

Since 2017, ‘NHS at 70’ has recorded over 1000 interviews with people across the UK about the history of the NHS and its place in everyday life and work.

But as Covid-19 began to impact on lives and communities in March, the team of 150 volunteer interviewers suspended face to face interviews.

Instead, they maintained social connections by switching to telephone interviews.

Dr Stephanie Snow from the University’s Faculty of Biology, Medicine and Health said: “Covid is producing seismic shifts across lives and communities and its social significance in terms of a public health crisis is unprecedented in living memory.

“It is a watershed moment in the longer history of the NHS so we are asking how have public attitudes to the NHS changed, what does care mean and who should provide it?

“These are vital questions that we will only be able to answer if we document the effects and impacts on all our lives by capturing personal testimonies.”

Since 2017 - supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund – ‘NHS at 70’ has worked across the UK, talking to patients, staff, policymakers and the public about experiences of health and the place of the NHS in everyday life and work.

‘NHS Voices of Covid-19’ will deliver an additional 900 interview sessions which will sit within the British Library’s wider Covid-19 collecting initiative. The initiative includes other streams of Coronavirus-related content spanning broadcasting, websites and listener-generated audio, video and written accounts. Together, these collections will form a unique and rich resource documenting life during the pandemic both in the UK and globally, for both researchers and the general public.

In parallel with collecting the oral history interviews, ‘NHS Voices of Covid-19’ will work with stakeholders to draw findings from the testimony through data analysis to support the development of learning resources such as briefings, engagement events, and digital resources that can inform policy and practice in the immediate post-Covid-19 period.

Dr Rob Perks, Lead Curator of Oral History at the British Library said: “We are delighted to be working with NHS Voices of Covid-19 to preserve for the nation these important and moving personal accounts of a key turning point in British history, and in the history of our national health service. Together they will provide a uniquely comprehensive, diverse and in-depth account of how the NHS responded to the pandemic, and situate the stories about Covid-19 within the wider context of the entire history of the NHS.”

Dr Snow added: “We are thrilled to have received AHRC funding. By building on the partnerships we’ve built through NHS at 70 we will have a unique opportunity to capture the unfolding of this global pandemic and document how it has impacted our lives and communities across the UK.”

Chris Larkin, Director of Stroke Support Services at the Stroke Association, said: “It’s vital to understand how Coronavirus has impacted on NHS services, such as the fantastic stroke teams we work with across the UK, and also the real life experiences of people affected by stroke at this time. That’s why we are supporting NHS Voices of Covid-19 to ensure stroke survivors and professionals can be involved in this hugely exciting project. Our thanks and appreciation to all the key workers who are supporting everyone affected by coronavirus”

Professor Andrew Thompson, AHRC Executive Chair, said: “The ‘NHS Voices of COVID-19’ is a highly significant project that will create a valuable archive of people’s experiences of this pandemic. This promises to be fascinating in its own right and of great value in informing future policy. AHRC are delighted to support this joint project by the University of Manchester and the British Library as part of UK Research and Innovation’s open call for ideas that address COVID-19.”

David Renwick, Director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is a pivotal moment in our contemporary history, and we are really proud that The National Lottery Heritage Fund is able to support NHS at 70 to ensure these heartfelt and inspiring stories of this time are captured and safeguarded for future generations. The heritage of the UK is always evolving, and it’s fantastic to see this wonderful project expand even further.”

Hear from Nick, the respiratory doctor who treated Prime Minister Boris Johnson in intensive care:


Personal stories

Nick, Boris Johnson’s respiratory physician was the first person from his family to go to University. He wanted to be a doctor from the age of 12, because, quite simply, he wanted to help people. Talking about treating the Prime Minister, he said:  “I didn’t realise the importance of this until after the event, and that was probably a good thing. I was so focused that we were going to provide the best possible care for this patient as we had done for the 150 that had been admitted before him. There was an inherent need to be able to support as best we could.”

Samuel, who is from Nigeria and works as a team supervisor in administration at a large London hospital, speaks about his fear of contracting Covid-19 and the impact of this on his mental health. He said: “I lost my appetite. I couldn’t eat. I was worried about what was going to happen to me and about my mum not seeing me again.”

Natalie, is an electric wheelchair user. She is tube-fed and uses occasional oxygen after suffering a severe form of Guillian-Barre syndrome 18 years ago. She said: “The hospital said I needed a GP examination. Because I am shielded, I can’t go to the surgery so a GP came out in full PPE which was really strange. It was quite an intimate examination but I felt really safe. It was all very different but very efficient.”

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