Why a coffee replenishes more than just caffeine levels #WILTW

This is the 131st #WILTW

I remember being distinctly disappointed in my dad when he told me:

The day we stopped having lunch together as consultants was the day when healthcare got worse in the NHS

As a medical student I felt this comment seemed to belong to the era of Sir Lancelott Spratt where the rigid hierarchies of medicine encouraged Consultants to play golf on a Friday afternoon. To spend time in the company of colleagues not actively working was indulgent and would be better spent with patients.

Time has moved on, and although I am still of the opinion that a free lunch for a certain professional group in a separate area of the canteen is a distinctly backward step, I finally understand what my dad was saying. Commensality is essentially the act of eating and drinking at the same table. It is a widely studied phenomena and was discussed this week in a blog by Chris Ham of the King’s Fund.  His argument was that creating time for people to get together helps build relationships and therefore trust. This trust helps to heal some of the fractures that are dividing healthcare at present. Apparently (and this isn’t referenced unfortunately) the Mayo Clinic have undertaken a randomised clinical trial to demonstrate the benefits of staff sharing meals together.

There is inherent face validity in this. But commensality is probably more than a word that would not be out of place on a management bulls**t bingo game. As winter takes its toll on the health economy and individuals are pushed the limit a coping strategy used effectively by our team is to spend time having small coffee breaks together. Some organised, but most spontaneous, with no real agenda other than to offload, vent and chat. I wish I could do this with people outside of my team, with those colleagues of different specialities or areas I see less regularly. These are the people I will end up needing to work with when clinical situations are at their most challenging.

via https://www.etsy.com/listing/270746323/a-cup-of-coffee-shared-with-a-friend-is
via https://www.etsy.com/listing/270746323/a-cup-of-coffee-shared-with-a-friend-is

Chris suggests “Creating time for staff to meet, and to do so in a spirit of collegiality and fellowship, could be part of the solution“. This could easily be dismissed as another mundane attempt by a non-clinical professional to ‘improve’ things. However the discussions that have kept me sane and given me perspective have always been over a coffee rather than at a formal meeting though.

Dad, you may have been, in a small way, right.

What have you learnt this week? #WILTW

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3 thoughts on “Why a coffee replenishes more than just caffeine levels #WILTW”

  1. Nobody (unfortunately) can actually “make time” though. A lovely sentiment and one I wholeheartedly agree with, but it’s just finding the spare moments to be able to do it.

    1. I think the point Chris Ham was making in his original piece is that this isn’t a “oh I’d like to have time to do this’ but a ‘we must make time to do this’. In the current environment though something will need to ‘give’ to make this time. As you allude to – the zero capacity in the system means this is nigh on impossible.

      I tried very carefully not to make this a wolly piece hence comments re: management bingo etc but it remains the case that this a tame solution to a wicked problem. Inherent on all of us to support everyone else in this endeavour….

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