In critique of moral resilience: UK healthcare professionals’ experiences working with asylum applicants housed in contingency accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic

Louise Tomkow, Gabrielle Prager, Kitty Worthing, Rebecca Farrington

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Abstract

This research explores the experiences of UK NHS healthcare professionals working with asylum applicants housed in contingency accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a critical understanding of the concept of moral resilience as a theoretical framework, we explore how the difficult circumstances in which they worked were navigated, and the extent to which moral suffering led to moral transformation. Ten staff from a general practice participated in semistructured interviews. Encountering the harms endured by people seeking asylum prior to arrival in the UK and through the UK’s ‘Hostile Environment’ caused healthcare staff moral suffering. They responded to this in several ways, including: (1) feeling grateful for their own fortunes; (2) defining the limitations of their professional obligations; (3) focusing on the rewards of work and (4) going above and beyond usual care. Although moral resilience is reflected in much of the data, some participants described how the work caused ideological transformations and motivated challenges to systems of oppression. We show how current moral resilience theory fails to capture these transformative political and social responses, warning of how, instead, it might encourage healthcare staff to maintain the status quo. We caution against the widespread endorsement of current formulations of moral resilience in contemporary social and political climates, where the hostile and austere systems causing suffering are the result of ideological political decisions. Future work should instead focus on enabling working conditions to support, and developing theory to capture, collective resistance.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Medical Ethics
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2023

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