Returning to work in 2021…

Katharine McIntosh, our Policy and External Affairs Manager, returns to work this month having been on maternity leave since April 2020. Here she writes about her hopes for 2021, and what it feels like to return to work amidst the significant impacts of COVID-19 on people with neurological conditions and the health and care system.

Back to work

I write this to the sound of my baby wailing downstairs (lunchtime – he hates his highchair). Coming back from maternity leave during a pandemic is rather strange. On the one hand the physical transition is much easier – a non-existent commute, no tiredness from travelling, and still being able to feed my baby myself. On the other, the stakes feel higher than ever, whilst my brain scrambles to get in gear again – not helped by the ongoing distraction of home life. January is always a harder time of year for most, but ever more so during a lock-down, with ongoing news of rising death tolls and the NHS being overwhelmed, and friends on furlough. So my satisfaction at being back at work feels almost inappropriate against this backdrop. I hope that some of the activities I’m undertaking help make a difference, down the line.

Things have moved on

One of the nice things about coming back after time away is that you can see where things have really moved on. I was really pleased to see the Out of the Shadows report, and am excited to get to work to try and make sure the recommendations in it come to fruition in the action plans that will follow the new Rare Diseases Framework. On the mental health front, it’s good to hear the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies neurological conditions webinar was delivered and well received, and the NNAG mental health away day report has been published. Small but important steps towards getting people with neurological conditions better mental health service access. And there are also the things that weren’t even on the table when I left to go on maternity leave, but have already been completed – such as the immense Re-start report. Though of course a huge amount of work will still be needed on this topic.

My hopes for the sector’s future

On a zoom call the other day, a sector colleague mentioned the opportunities for policy change that can occur off the back of a crisis. This chimed with me, bringing back half-forgotten theories of policy change from my Masters degree. The NHS was – or at least has become – the phoenix from the ashes of the second world war, which came about during a period of political consensus. Charlotte Augst’s thought piece that I read earlier today, on how we’re now facing the failure of our health and care system to meet even basic needs, makes it clear that the crisis element is certainly in place. So looking forward, against the dismal present, I’m daring to hope. Perhaps there is just a chance that off the back of all this, we will somehow end up with a properly funded, fully integrated health and social care system that better meets the needs of everybody with a neurological condition. And that I can play some very small part in helping to bring this about.