About the Project

‘Waiting Times’ takes its cue from the ways that waiting times are routinely used as a political football in discourses about the success or failure of health care provision in the UK. While there is a substantial body of sociological research on the relation between waiting times, healthcare policy and health inequalities, there is very little research that investigates waiting time, contact time, and the time of care within more complex understandings of temporality and the phenomenology of illness in the modern period. ‘Waiting Times’ therefore brings together perspectives from medical humanities, the social history of the NHS, psychosocial studies, literary studies, and new studies of temporality to analyse the difficulties and potentialities of waiting within a contemporary moment characterised by different and sometimes incommensurable experiences of time. The project focuses on how the temporal experience of waiting plays out in the contexts of a) mental health; b) the GP setting; and c) end of life care. These sites have been chosen as they routinely produce intensive state and public anxiety and scrutiny, and are the subject of significant government intervention, from the recent promise to standardise waiting times for those with psychosis, to the scrapping of the minimum 10 minute GP consultation time, to the ‘crisis’ in care for the very elderly. By developing partnerships with NHS service providers and service users, ‘Waiting Times’ will investigate these sites as windows on to the relation between time, care and health in an era experienced according to different and increasingly complex tempos. Its aim is to produce resources, informed by detailed research on philosophical and cultural understandings of waiting in modernity, which will have an impact on healthcare policy and the management of the embodied experience of waiting in the NHS.

In 2015-16, we commissioned two scoping studies, funded by Wellcome and Birkbeck ISSF Funding: one on the history of management of waiting lists in the NHS (1948-present) led by Dr. Shaul Bar Haim; the other on major themes in the literature on end of life care led by Dr. Gill Partington.

IMG_0525-300x225The Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities and the Institute for Social Research funded a symposium on ‘The Chronic’, held in London on the 17th March 2016. We used this event to discuss key questions in relation to waiting, temporality and healthcare. These included: How does the chronic function as a category in medicine and in culture more broadly? How does its slowed-down time relate to the accelerated times and technologies of modernity? What are the (bio)politics of the chronic, and how does it work to structure not only health practice and our experience of health and illness, but also to determine ideas of bodily time and urgency? What other time signatures are enabled or occluded by it? How is the trajectory of chronic temporality complicated on the one hand by regimes of end-of-life and palliative care, for instance, and on the other by the populist identity politics of ‘survivorship’? What is the relation between chronic time and experiences of waiting in the NHS? To what extent can the chronic be thought of as a culturally and historically specific temporal mode? What are its genealogy and antecedents? How is it cut across by other cultures and other times, and with what effects?