A Cwm Taf Morgannwg anaesthetics trainee has teamed up with life peer Baroness Ilora Finlay to launch a national campaign to protect people who have been shielding from coronavirus, after coming up with the idea of a simple pin badge to encourage ongoing social distancing.
Helen Iliff, who works at Prince Charles Hospital in Merthyr Tydfil, realised the need for a ‘polite prompt’ to others to maintain a respectful distance as lockdown restrictions started to ease. Her idea for a Distance Aware symbol, showing a protective yellow shield, will now be rolled out across Wales and other parts of the UK after being adopted by NHS Wales and endorsed by Welsh Government and health think tank the Bevan Commission.
The pin badge, with the shield in a white circle, has been designed to be worn by anyone who is keen to promote ongoing distancing. The shield signifies protection, while blue chevrons around the edge of the shield symbolise the NHS and the continued need to be alert. The shield is also available in a range of other colours to ensure maximum inclusivity and the symbol can be used on lanyards, stickers and other merchandise.
Helen, who has herself been shielding at home since March, is a Bevan Commission Exemplar – one of a cohort of innovative health professional ‘big thinkers’. Baroness Finlay is her Bevan Commission mentor and has been instrumental in helping Helen take her idea from kitchen table to Welsh Government green light and beyond.
Helen said: “I put out a Twitter poll originally, asking anaesthetists if it would be helpful to have a lanyard or a visible symbol to identify people who are beginning to emerge from a period of shielding. The response was encouraging and, with Baroness Finlay, I wrote two blogs for the BMJ. The first had an overwhelmingly positive response for a badge reminding people to maintain a two-metre distance and, over the space of the next week, the idea evolved quickly.”
Helen ran a Google poll, which attracted 1,750 responses from people across the UK. “Those who responded had very clear ideas, including having no text, as people would have to get too close to read it, and using bold colours,” she said. “It needed to be visual and also a polite prompt, not a protest or demand. One of the really big positives was the willingness to engage from non-shielding groups, especially in hospitals and workplaces that may struggle to maintain social distancing.”
Baroness Finlay said: “It is essential that, as people are encouraged to emerge from shielding, there is a clear, instantly recognisable symbol to signal that social distance must be respected. There are children and young people at risk. There are people across all groups in society, many of whom Wales depends on for economic recovery, who look fit and well but, if they got Covid, they could die.
“Social distancing is already being ignored in many places, leading to cluster outbreaks. This symbol is a universal prompt to respect social distancing, and it costs almost nothing. Without it, lives will be lost.”
With the initiative adopted by NHS Wales, it’s hoped that the badges will quickly be available across Wales. NHS Shared Services has sourced a manufacturer, while an NHS supplier has offered to meet the cost of an initial 130,000 badges. Helen, who has been working from home throughout lockdown, is also now researching distribution streams with supermarkets and large retail brands, in a bid to ensure maximum accessibility.
“I have certainly been managing to keep busy!” she said. “It’s been very exciting and I like to think I’ve made the most of the time shielding. It’s not just about giving people the confidence to go out; it’s also about our wider understanding of personal responsibility and respect for others. It’s not that people aren’t willing to engage with social distancing, but we are tiring after so long in lockdown and people forget.
“This would never have happened without Baroness Finlay as my mentor. It’s been so much fun and incredibly fulfilling to work on this with her.”
To find out more and how partner organisations can download the shield symbol and posters, please visit https://www.bevancommission.org/distance-aware.