Photo: Álvaro Martínez García
I find the clapping thing quite unsettling, like most ‘spontaneous mass acts’ involving the public. For some it really is a genuine way of expressing thanks and it is very much appreciated. But for too many, its a symbolic and mostly thoughtless act.
I worry that it’s a distraction from the big issues behind this crisis. If you can get the masses to clap and say slogans, then they will not engage and think. If they are clapping, they cannot hold protest placards. If their mouths are full of praise for ‘our NHS heroes’, then they cannot ask difficult questions of those ‘leading’ us in this crisis. Like: ‘Why is the issued PPE thinner than my Ikea sandwich bag’? ‘Why have we less Intensive Care Unit beds than other, less developed countries’? And: ‘Are we still going to exclude EU Healthcare workers from the UK after Brexit’?
I find the designation of ‘NHS Heroes’ equally unsettling. There should be no heroes in healthcare. You go into a healthcare job aware of the risks, and believe it or not I feel that in the past I have been more at risk than I am at the moment.
There are countless infectious and communicable diseases in the world. During my first contact with a patient in an Emergency Department, I will not know how infectious a patient is. Often I would not know there was a risk, until I was contacted by the Occupational Health team, or I saw staff wearing full PPE to ‘barrier nurse’ the same patient I recently saw. The only barrier I have used often in that first contact is a pair of gloves. The NHS was under strain long before coronavirus.
To be a hero denotes that something is unusual, extraordinary and uncalled for. That would suggest that something has gone wrong. During Public Health and epidemiology modules at university, I was taught about preparations for pandemics. We were made aware of the risks posed by emerging respiratory viruses at a pre-registration undergraduate level. I was also aware of the need to rotate stock, and have reserves in place as a teenager working in a warehouse.
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I’ve found it difficult to see Boris Johnson praise the NHS staff who saved his life. He has based his political career – and set the future direction of the country – on excluding people, like those immigrant staff he named, from working here and saving the lives of others in the future. He has also consistently voted with the party that has undermined our concept of healthcare for all. I cannot see this changing after the crisis is over, as by then we will need to focus ‘on the economy’ and ‘moving forward’.
The waiting lists, the backlogs, the illness as a result of missed early diagnosis and underfunding will continue to grow. We will continue to scrub up. We will continue to do the job that we were trained for. We will continue to do our best for you on the worst days of your lives.
The thanks and the clapping will stop, but what will be the long term impact? Like the people of Hamelin in the story of the Pied Piper, I fear the people of the UK will forget the lessons we have learned when the immediate crisis happens. I hope not.
It has been a long night. I need a sandwich.