Communicating through COVID: Arts-Based Education for NHS Frontline Workers

Supporting the development of NHS healthcare professionals’ non-verbal communication skills through arts-based education.

Creativity and Mental Health


Communication between patients and healthcare professionals has undergone drastic and necessary changes since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Doctors, nurses and medical students are facing new challenges daily: adapting to the widespread use of PPE, video consultations, social distancing and limited physical touch.

Healthcare professionals have described the ways in which PPE isolates, exhausts and impedes communication, not to mention the huge toll on their mental health and the myriad other effects of the work rate required to keep pace with everchanging outbreaks. All considered, there is an urgent and clear need for research in this area.

Project Overview

Our multidisciplinary research team work with performers to develop and deliver a programme of training and support for frontline NHS staff who are required to wear PPE for long periods of time while delivering care.

The study also conducts interviews to generate evidence concerning challenges facing healthcare professionals and the efficacy of arts-based approaches in supporting them during the pandemic.

The methodologies developed will be scalable and combined with learning resources and a best practices framework that can be widely shared across the UK.

Through arts intervention, the project aims to better equip healthcare workers to manage both physical discomfort and stress, with the primary goal of improving their own self-care. Performers will also train them to use more compassionate and clearer verbal and non-verbal communication, which has been shown to be an essential element of good patient care, as well as part of an efficient and cost-effective healthcare system.

This is a unique, multidisciplinary partnership between arts organisations, NHS trusts and academics who have been collaborating for decades. The project creates, adapts and tests new methodologies that can subsequently be scaled and disseminated online. The art forms being explored include dance, puppetry and forum theatre.

"This project, built on near 20 years of my work with Performing Medicine, will harness ideas and techniques employed by artists, actors, choreographers, voice coaches to develop courses and resources to help healthcare workers meet these current challenges."

Dr. Suzy Willson - Principal Investigator

"All over the world, people are coming to understand the important role that the arts must play in responding to this pandemic. The work that Suzy Willson, the Clod Ensemble and Performing Medicine do to support frontline healthcare professionals and patients has never been more vital, and the exchange of knowledge and ideas with People's Palace Projects will enrich COVID-19 arts-based projects that we are undertaking in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Peru and the United Kingdom."

Paul Heritage, Co-Investigator and People's Palace Projects Arts Director

“This project should make a real difference to health professionals’ communication and well-being during COVID-19. It’s especially exciting to be combining insights and ideas from both medicine and the arts and humanities – it’s so often these interdisciplinary collaborations that deliver genuine innovation.”

Graham Easton, Co-Investigator at Barts and QMUL