Dr. Nick Barnes

Dr. Nick Barnes

Nick works as a Specialty Doctor in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, as a Cognitive Analytic Therapist and Honorary Senior Lecturer at University College London. 

In this blog, Nick discusses the fundamental role that relationships will play in enabling us to tackle the inequalities which have become so evident during Covid-19 and emerge as a stronger, more resilient society. 

This blog is a summary of a longer piece contributed by Nick to The Relationships Project. To dig deeper into the thoughts shared by Nick in this blog, take a look at the full article. 

The COVID-19 crisis has brought about unprecedented challenge and need for change and we are all still desperately trying to make sense of what lies ahead – acknowledging the ongoing perception of threat, and holding on to such a significant degree of uncertainty.

But the Coronavirus pandemic has also thrown up many questions about how we have been working and connecting with each other over recent decades, and perhaps offers a window of opportunity for us to consider doing things differently in the future.

Working from within the NHS one becomes rather desensitised to seeing the institution bounce between two poles; from being placed on a pedestal in an idealised and perfect position one moment, to the next being attacked and dismissed for failing to be fit for purpose. The NHS becomes the metaphoric football for all our hopes and expectations as well as our disappointments. From within this crisis we can all take notice of the public and political appreciation for the NHS with staff visibly moved by the clapping for carers each Thursday evening; currently the NHS is in an idealised place, and rightly so.

And yet one does fear for a sense of frustration and fatigue that might evolve as we begin to move beyond the flattening of the curve and start to ease our way out of the lockdown. The realities of what people have needed to face and endure will inevitably lead to a heightened demand in less “distanced” times, and the perceptions of failing and disappointment are likely to re-emerge.

This constant shifting in position between an idealised place through to the more dismissed and disregarded place so clearly reflects the wider political landscape, but also demonstrates the underlying chronic neglect of our services, and subsequently the neglect of our communities.

This COVID-19 crisis has held up a mirror to the stark inequalities that have become so pronounced within our society over the last 40 years – inequalities that have then been replicated in our responses and reactions to this pandemic, and perhaps so noticeable in the numbers of Black and Minority Ethnic workers and carers who have died during this first wave of the virus.

If we long to go back to where things were before the arrival of coronavirus, then we will simply reinforce and exaggerate yesterday’s inequalities, embedding the sense of disconnect that currently exists within our society.

I propose that if we are to find ways of exiting from the lockdown and starting to overcome the barriers of social distancing, then we need to think not only about the need for drugs, vaccines and testing, all of which are going to be crucial, but we also need to begin to notice, understand and start to address these inequalities.

If we continue to focus on the individual, then we will simply reinforce the polarisation and alienation experienced within our society, and further entrench this systemic injustice. 

My suggestion falls on the need to use this time to reflect on our need for relationships – to recognise that we are relational beings and that being and feeling connected is essential, if we are to find the resilience to navigate our way through and beyond this crisis.

For if we recognise that resilience is not just about the individual, but is about “Beating the odds whilst also Change the odds” then we can begin to recognise that we all need relationships, trust and agency for us to believe we can “Be the Change” rather than, passively, “Be Changed”. 

At the end of the day, ”it’s all about relationships”, as the COVID-19 crisis has so clearly demonstrated, and it is through relationships, by connecting and feeling connected, that we will begin to find our exits.