Thinking time

The aims of Waiting Times are thus threefold: to develop a critical, historical, and culturally contextualised understanding of waiting in contemporary life; to pioneer a new approach in Medical Humanities that places psychosocial experiences of temporal extension at the heart of conceptualisations of treatment and care; to change academic and public understandings of what ‘timely’ healthcare might be.

Research questions
The overarching question ‘what does it mean to wait “now”?’ frames the following subsidiary enquiries:

  1. Which models of time structure medical care? How do temporal narratives of chronicity and urgency, acuteness and delay, shape experiences of healthcare?
  2. In what ways, and under what conditions, does waiting operate as a form of care, both historically and in the present? How can this be differentiated from waiting as an expression of service insufficiency or failure?
  3. How are obdurate or impeded temporal experiences represented and socially organised? How are these representations taken up in medical care, and what new models of time emerge from healthcare practices?

Three thematic strands and one cross-thematic strand focus on three key healthcare sites:

  1. General practice
  2. End of life care
  3. Psychotherapeutic treatment with young people

For health practitioners, these sites contain the everyday but often difficult experience of managing waiting: from the GP’s decision to employ ‘watchful waiting’, through the patience required to care for someone at the end of their life, to the child psychotherapist’s decision to manage their own concern during long periods of a young person’s depression or self-harming behavior. All three sites
have a distinct relation to the NHS, constituting a buffer zone between institutions like the hospital and alternative spaces for care such as schools, community settings, or the home. They are also particularly resonant in public discourses as they produce intense anxiety and state scrutiny, and are the subject of persistent government intervention. For instance, the minimum ten-minute consultation time with a GP was controversially scrapped in 2014, producing concerns about safe working practices.

Recently, maximum waiting times for people with psychosis
were brought into line with those for patients with cancer, aligning mental health for the first time with other conditions where early diagnosis and care are crucial. Yet
waiting times for trans health services have soared as some Gender Identity Clinics have experienced increases in referrals of several hundred percent, even though
service users are known to be vulnerable to self-harm and suicide. With ongoing revelations about a wider crisis in care work, the time needed for the care of those
at the end of their lives, especially those experiencing disorientating changes in how they process, remember, and live time, remains constantly on the political agenda.

With this project, we will complicate the insistence that waiting time in healthcare must be reduced at all costs, while addressing the broader lament that we no longer
know how to be patient – or to be a patient – in times seemingly dominated by acceleration, immediacy, and political short-termism. As such, we propose a
fundamental reconceptualisation of the relation between time and care in contemporary thinking about health, illness, and wellbeing.

Image: Fontes 1992/2008 by Cildo Meireles