BY KATY BRADSHAW, HOVE COMMUNITY ACUPUNCTURE
Hove Community Acupuncture is one of the longest running multibed clinics. It was the first of its kind in the UK – a clinic where you could walk in off the street without an appointment and receive the highest quality acupuncture treatment at a reduced rate.
Over the 17 years that we’ve been open we have grown in capacity so that by early 2020 we were running 4 clinic sessions with two practitioners and a receptionist and were treating an average of 50 patients a week.
Then COVID hit.
And whilst we watched and waited to see whether it was going to be as serious as it eventually turned out to be, we began to realise that our wonderful treatment space was no longer safe for us or our patients, and with heavy hearts closed our doors on the 17th March.
At the time it seemed like that was it for us.
We just couldn’t envisage a way that we could return to community acupuncture in the ‘new normal’ world of social distancing. I don’t know about you, but I think we all retreated a little. There was a sense of not knowing where our place as acupuncturists was anymore. The BAcC was slow to react. The Government was certainly not mentioning us. We were hanging on to what hairdressers were being allowed to do and wondering why we weren’t back at work like the physios and osteopaths. It all felt a little bit existential.
But as lockdown started to relax and summer arrived, the incredibly supportive owner of our studio gently suggested that we should start thinking about getting back to work. In whatever capacity we could.
Even if that meant one bed. One patient. One practitioner. We just needed to get back out there.
And what great advice that was.
So, we got together (via Zoom obviously!) and started to plan how we could make it work. This is what we did.
So that we could control the numbers of patients (we’d often have a queue of people arriving at the same time) we had to shift from a drop-in, cash-only service, to a fully bookable service with pre-payments made online. This was facilitated by being part of a bigger clinic as we were able to piggy-back what they were doing. This also meant that we are now able to pre-screen patients for covid with an easy to use online questionnaire.
The clinic added a ventilation system to the studio, we bought new screens and wipeable pillow covers. We removed all our blankets and got a big supply of antibacterial spray to clean couches and plenty of surgical face masks for us, and spares for any patients who’d forgotten theirs.
To enable social distancing we had to reduce the number of beds from 6 to 3, which meant only having capacity for one practitioner to work. We juggled things around and came up with a schedule that meant those that could work did and those that couldn’t were able to support the team in the background.
And to be honest, it’s this that’s felt the hardest change.
The hygiene and safe practise elements weren’t hard – we take that stuff seriously anyway. We’re now all used to wearing masks and everyone has taken that in their stride. We suggest people bring their own blankets and make sure the heating is on now it’s colder. And we have all adapted to the new booking system, finding it easier to know who’s coming in and how busy our days are likely to be.
But the loss of regular practitioner interaction and teamworking has been big. Being a therapist can be a lonely profession. Working with a colleague with a receptionist buzzing around taking bookings, making beds and chatting with patients was such a positive addition to our working lives. Not only the social aspect, but between us we have around 75 years of experience – which is just an incredible mine of information to be able to tap into each week.
I know lots of ACMAC members run multibeds on their own so for some of you this wouldn’t feel like a big deal. But we really treasured this time together and I know we’re all missing it.
We try to stay on top of it with monthly Zoom meetings and part of groups such as ACMAC is a real help – we know the community is out there. But if I could bring anything of the old clinic back it would be that.
Over the 17 years we’ve treated thousands of people who would not normally be able to access our incredible therapy. At the same time we’ve shared expertise, welcomed novice practitioners and given students a chance to observe and volunteer for us.
Who knows what the future holds? Winter is coming and we’re all anxiously watching
what the rise in cases will mean for us personally and professionally.
But what we do know, is that whatever is happening out in the world, there is a strong need for what we do and a huge willing amongst us to deliver it, in whatever way we can. We have shown that with commitment and willing we can adapt and thrive and continue to deliver accessible acupuncture to our communities.
And long may that continue.