National Voices welcomes Dr Rebecca Steinfeld as Head of Policy
How are you and your family coping with COVID-19?
Up and down. I am physically well, but mentally I’m finding it tough. Stuck at home while trying to meet the competing needs of work and two very young children is relentless – to put it diplomatically. But I’m thankful that I’m largely cushioned from the worst effects of lockdown. I am privileged to have a new job – thank you National Voices! – a home, food on the table and free access to healthcare. I shudder to think what coronavirus looks like in the poorest parts of the world or for those closer to home who are not as lucky. At National Voices, I intend to focus on health inequalities in everything I do, starting with our response to coronavirus.
Why did you decide to work for NV?
National Voices’ efforts towards ensuring that the healthcare system best meets the needs of those using it mirror my own commitments in policy work and campaigning. I’ve already worked to translate people’s experiences and concerns into concrete service improvements in maternity care, with a keen eye on woman-centred, rights respecting care. I have also acquired useful campaigning tools in my work around civil partnerships. Now, I want to combine my knowledge of the healthcare system with my skills in effective campaigning to ensure health services truly walk the walk of person-centred care.
What other work have you done?
I am coming to National Voices from Maternity Action, the UK’s leading charity committed to ending inequality and improving the health and wellbeing of pregnant women, their partners and young children. I led research and influencing on access to perinatal mental health services, and sharpened the health inequalities focus of numerous policies. Outside of healthcare, I co-led a high-profile and successful national campaign to open civil partnerships to all. In my academic life, I have critiqued policies around genital cutting and reproductive health.
These might all seem like disconnected activities, but – in my mind at least! – they are linked by a common thread: scrutinising policies affecting the most intimate aspects of our bodies and lives. For me, vigilance about the intentions and impact of these policies is hugely important, as is pushing back when these undermine people’s rights.
What is your hope for what we can achieve together, charities working across health and care?
First, I hope that we come out the other end of this health crisis with as many of us alive and well as possible. I also hope that we can retain the empathy for those living with long-term conditions that has emerged during lockdown. It would be wonderful if we also had a better understanding of digital healthcare and telemedicine – their potential, problems and areas for improvement. Scanning the horizon, our toughest policy challenges may come as the pandemic ends and we try to cement some of the hard-won changes we achieved during it.
Second, more long-term, I hope we can truly embed person-centred care throughout health services. There is a clear commitment to universal personalised care in NHS strategy and policy directives. Yet, on the ground people continue to experience long wait times and barriers to access. This gap between policy and practice must be narrowed. So too must inequalities in health access, experiences and outcomes. The challenge for me will be to identify the opportunities for embedding culture change at national, regional and local level. I look forward to getting to know each of our members better, and to working with you to achieve these common goals.
What do you do to unwind and not think about work?
For me, the personal is political, so it’s rare I’m not thinking about ‘work’ in some sense. Plus, I find it therapeutic to channel my political concerns rather than to try to distract myself. But, on a lighter note, I love taking my two children scooting and leading them in feminist power ballads in the kitchen. Otherwise, I can be found eating chocolate and watching Netflix – sadly not just during a pandemic!