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World Health Day – An interview with Scarlett Bruce

Scarlett Bruce was inspired to pursue law by the character of Elle Woods in Legally Blonde. After studying for the LPC and LLM at Ulaw’s Bloomsbury campus, she is now most inspired by her work as Deputy Head of Legal Services for Barts Health Trust. We caught up with Scarlett to learn more about Law in the NHS.

 

‘I have never felt more proud to be part of the NHS’

 

I don’t have an inspirational story unfortunately. But I would be lying if I said that Elle Woods in Legally Blonde didn’t spark my interest in law, particularly when I fell in love with the music from the Broadway show. I have always been interested in music and the entertainment industry and I have always really enjoyed studying. I thought it would be a great idea to pursue law and I knew I would be left with options at the end of my degree. I got my degree in law and went about applying to some entertainment law firms. Little did I know that healthcare law would peak my interest even more. My mum is a Director of Nursing and my uncle is a Professor of Public Health, so maybe there was no escaping public healthcare in some form.

I studied the LPC with the LLM in Professional Legal Practice at ULaw’s London, Bloomsbury campus. I joined in 2015 and finished in 2017. I actually joined on the full-time course but switched over to the part-time course. I worked alongside my studies and due to a promotion at work, I decided to study at the weekends. ULaw were really helpful in facilitating the changeover to fit in with the new part-time course set up.

After I got my law degree, I thought I was set with everything I needed to conquer the world of law - if only I knew. After a few knockbacks from some entertainment law firms, I knew I needed to get some legal work experience. In 2014, I got a Legal Administrator role at Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, a mental health trust with services across the South East England. From there, I had a great manager and mentor and was made a legal Case Manager in around 2015. I decided to apply to do the LPC and after a while was then made a Deputy Legal Support Manager.

From my time at the Trust, I gained an immense interest in medical law and ethics and knew that this was what I wanted to pursue. I was travelling to London to complete my LPC and so that I could make London a permanent base. I took on a new job in London at Barts Health NHS Trust as a Claims and Inquest Manager in 2017, just as I was completing my LPC/LLM. I carried out my training contract at the Trust, and also decided to complete a Higher Rights of Audience (civil) course, whilst completing my training. I qualified as a solicitor in March 2019. I then took some time out travelling at the end of 2019 and returned at the beginning of 2020 to assist in the role of Deputy Head of Legal Services.

A typical day at work would be to assist the team and manage the flow of claims and inquests we have at the Trust. Barts Health is one of the largest NHS trusts in the country so we generally have a high volume of work. I may attend as advocate at an inquest on behalf of the Trust. Or, I may be case managing one of our clinical negligence, employer liability or public liability litigation files. As a legal manager, I am also responsible for providing legal advice to the Trust clinicians on legal and ethical matters, such as the withdrawal of life sustaining treatment and when to involve the Court of Protection.

Since the Covid-19 Pandemic, the legal team has been working mostly remotely. Our inquest hearings have been held on a remote basis, with witnesses giving evidence from hospital and advocates dialling in from home. Working in the NHS, many staff were redeployed to areas where help was needed the most. Over the winter Covid peak, I provided some additional admin support in the evenings at one of our main hospitals.

I am definitely proud to be part of the incredible NHS. Seeing the heroic response to the Covid-19 pandemic from the nurses, doctors and all staff; I have never felt more proud to be part of the NHS and I am constantly in awe of how much frontline staff go above and beyond. On a personal level, there have been many cases I have had the privilege to be involved in, which have analysed medical law and ethics and human rights issues. Some of which have been reported on an international level. I am proud, as someone with epilepsy, that I have never been held back by my diagnosis and as a solicitor-advocate, I have achieved many things I have set out to achieve.

In terms of my work, there is always more to learn when it comes to the ever evolving world of healthcare law. I am really interested in the future of global healthcare, particularly with the use of technology. I think Covid-19 stunted this in some places, but in others has been a catalyst for change. The way we share medical data, consult patients, deploy vaccines and offer surgery are changing - all with the help of technology. I think we are due to see some fascinating advancements in healthcare over the next five years, which will all come with legal and ethical questions. The fallout of other non-Covid health services from the pandemic is predicted by experts to be monumental. I think it will be interesting to see how new technology systems will assist with supporting this. I have often thought about a PhD in medical law and ethics, so maybe I could think about that in the next five years…never say never.

The Covid pandemic has really shone a light on accessible working for people with chronic health conditions. I have epilepsy and I miss the office environment. But having the option to work from home, on a day when my epilepsy is making me feel tired, or I don’t feel 100%, is really important for me and those living with chronic illness. I think agile working is a really important tool for everyone, but especially those with disability and chronic health conditions in the workplace.

I think having epilepsy can be a difficult thing to discuss. The initial conversation can sometimes be hard as there is still stigma attached to the condition, along with many other disabilities and chronic conditions. I had my first seizure when I was 15 years old. I was at school in an IT lesson and suddenly I had a seizure on the floor, in front of everyone. I was told that seizures were common in teenagers and if I had epilepsy, there would be a chance I may have another within nine months. Nine months later, I had another seizure. I underwent various neurological tests and was formally diagnosed aged 16. Then my epilepsy journey began.

People can often form a judgment based on misconceptions and that can put you off wanting to start a conversation about health in the workplace. I have learnt over time that the best way to break the stigma and those misconceptions is to just talk about these things. It can be difficult for all those living with invisible illnesses, as people often don’t see what’s going on behind your smile. For example, the side effects of my medication can sometimes leave me feeling tired, or I can sometimes be halfway through a conversation and have a memory blank.

I pride myself on where I am today and epilepsy has never severely impacted my ability to carry out my role. But if I have a ‘funny five minutes’ on a Zoom call, I sometimes don’t feel I can make those excuses. I think that’s just the way society has led us to behave – we always have to be 100% when at work. I think it’s important we try and normalise this. Having conversations with people so they are aware can often take away from that awkward feeling when you do feel the effects of your illness.

I would say that working in a high pressured, busy job, whilst living with epilepsy can sometimes lead to me feeling fatigued. I take medication for my epilepsy twice a day, and this can sometimes leave me feeling tired. It’s important to listen to my body when I feel this way as triggers from my seizures include stress and lack of sleep. Over the years I have got a lot better at knowing when to take a break, when to get an early night or when to speak to my manager about something I need assistance with and because of this I have not had a seizure in a long time.

If you have a health condition, I would make sure you have informed your employers at the outset. Firstly, there may be safety aspects to your health issues that people need to know about and it’s important that you inform someone. You don’t need to tell the whole world if you don’t want to, but just one person. I have had a seizure at work in a previous workplace and it was so important that my manager knew what to do, as not everyone always does. Secondly, it means that you are getting the support you deserve and are entitled to. Employers have a duty to support you in your role and there is so much on offer, depending on your health issue, to ensure you are doing your job to the best of your ability. Make your job work for you, don’t suffer in silence, and you will most likely see that you excel at the job you are in.

In terms of my epilepsy, I will always remain passionate about advocating for those with epilepsy and chronic health conditions, raising awareness and raising money. I am currently taking part in ‘Challenge 100’Running one hundred miles in one hundred days for the Epilepsy Society.’

I feel I have reached a point in my career where I can use my experiences to help guide and support others who are just starting to navigate the world of work with invisible conditions. I believe that young people entering competitive, intellectually challenging and demanding jobs are often seen as, and expected to be, perfect models of physical, emotional and mental health. I know this as a young lawyer starting out and I sometimes see junior doctors in very challenging environments. If someone looks physically well on the outside, it can be assumed that they are ‘the picture of health.’ This misconception can promote unattainable standards, particularly for those living with invisible illnesses. These professions can be competitive environments and those with invisible illness can sometimes be on the back foot, so they just push through. It ultimately leads to health conditions worsening, poor mental health and absences from work, which is not helpful for employee or employer. With the right support and guidance, I believe that those with invisible health conditions can thrive in the workplace.

To follow in Scarlett’s footsteps and study for an LPC at ULaw.