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A message from a tired healthcare worker for all of us clapping for carers tonight

An NHS healthcare worker got in touch with us to share his thoughts on the Thursday night clap for the NHS.

Coronavirus in Bristol

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’?

There should be no heroes in healthcare

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.

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Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

  • I wholeheartedly agree with everything in this article.


  • I cringe when people who voted for 10 years of tory austerity clap. I cringe when my racist next door neighbour claps. I worry about who’s going to suffer when the tories try to get the money back its spent. Clapping is an inadequate response to our keyworkers putting their life on the line. Let’s organise instead and make sure they have ppe and testing and are not forgotten when this is over.


  • I appreciate the thought behind it and maybe for the first couple of weeks it was a nice idea. But it’s not doing anything to help and actually my kids especially, find it really weird. There are also so many people who don’t just clap, they’re screaming and banging pans etc! My little boy is 5, it’s right after his bedtime and unsettles him every time and brings up the ‘virus’ conversation. My partner gets up at 2am for his driving job so this now wakes him up on a weekly basis! There must be other families who are feeling the same but just don’t want to say? I just think it’s unnecessary and actually disruptive.


    • How little minded can you get? There is nothing wrong in clapping to show appreciation for the whoHS.and yes there are individual heroic individuals and departments within it, just like the armed forces in wartime.Typically Labour who fail to give this government the slightesr credit for anythig they do in the national interest
      .I shudder to think of the country’s plight today under a Corbyn administration


      t. I shudder to think where the population would be today under a Corbyn administration


      • Probably a hell of a lot less of them dead. You obviously dont know or understand corbyn. The media cricified him. The best pm we never had. Just too too much to try and educate you about Corbyn and what a different and better uk he would have helped come into existance.

      • If Corbynism ruled the country we would me like a floating ship in the night without a leader if he caught Covid-19 like Boris did coz it would have the the stupid ole ???

  • As the writer points out, it is hypocritical in the extreme for the tories to hold up NHS workers as heroes, when they have spent the past ten years undermining it at every turn, and selling bits off to their mates. They stand behind signs saying “protect our NHS” when they sabotage it endlessly. If you voted tory, please don’t clap; make the same noise by slapping yourself in the face, repeatedly and hard.


  • Hi,
    Bringing the writer’s last paragraph about… “forgetting the lessons we have learned when this was over …”, my broad assessment of the pandemic and the health service’s approach as well as the daily broadcasts, tells me that at best what’s been done is a ‘fire brigade’ approach to this event and that no specific steady approach to understanding and learning by means of a strategic approach toward Public Health intervention of similar magnitude or more is being developed.
    You cannot resort to getting a nation to work from home or get people on lockdown in the event of a similar outbreak in the future, that’s not a strategic P. H intervention, because there are other prevalent Health conditions as well as social risks and well-being issues faced by individuals which to them is worse than being infected with a virus, which do not stop by being on a lockdown if anything, some became aggravated by it.
    This country must be able to manage a pandemic and still run as a country. And viable lessons learned from one such out breaks after another first Ebola now CORONAVIRUS should begin to get us nearer where we need to get to be deemed stable..
    My take.


  • the nhs has been used as a weapon against the people, neither the people nor the nhs workers realise it.

    ‘stay at home, save the nhs’ – meanwhile, excess deaths not related to c19, going off the chart in last 2 weeks.

    clap, crap, clap


  • I think most people find clapping uplifting and most people do it every week to show their appreciation – many think that’s the least they can do! The event was started by people and not governments so I don’t believe in conspiracy theories that it is a way of silencing people and stopping them from calling governments to account on por etc. I accept that not everyone likes praises, but many do. I’m clapping tonight and all my claps are for Colonel Tom Moore who is 100 today and has raised £30 million for the NHS.


    • Yes hes a true gentleman. All my cul de sac clap every thursday as we are all mainly elderley and wouldnt be here if it wasnt for the nhs ots our way of saying a massive thank you and we live almost opposite the stoke university hospital.


  • Some of you people are pathetic. It’s simple appreciation, cheers people up and creates a sense of community at a difficult time for the better part of the world and that’s all – your overanalysis is the problem here.

    Shame on you.


    • Mike this was written by a frountline NHS worker, shame on you for wishing shame on them!

      Theres layers to everything, they need exploring, it’s pathetic not too.

      I pay taxes to fund the NHS and it saddens me greatly that it’s necessary for us to give to the nhs as if it was a charity when it should be funded over say missile defence systems, tory duck houses and other horrors…


  • Showing gratitude for key workers and understanding the failure of government (all parties) to fund and organise social services are not mutually exclusive. For the most part this is a genuine personal expression. There are elements of hypocrisy, but our lives are riddled with it, we can only strive to do better. Heroism does not require unusual circumstances, it can be a daily slog against all odds. The clapping will stop at some point, but many people will be a little bit (or a lot) changed forever by this experience and will desire change.


  • Thank you for your intelligent, concise observation – I wish the whole country could read this article and start thinking for themselves instead of being manipulated by an irresponsible government using meaningless slogans.


  • I bang a pot (and clap) at the weekly clap as a form of protest. I first saw the Italians doing it (or was it the Spanish) who were protesting at their government and thought it a great way to protest from your home. I’m also going to make a placard to stand beside me as I make my noise. It’s a bit harsh to tell those who voted Tory not to clap. The best way to influence is to win them over, don’t alienate them further.


  • We live opposite a hospital employee and she is really appreciative of the weekly clapping in the street. Regardless of politics that’s good enough for me.


  • I hate it when people say shame on you, shame on you for saying shame on you.

    I have an idea, if you like a good old clap and makes you feel like you have done something, go on clap your heart out, fill your boots and clap to your hearts content.

    But if you really want to change something use this time to become a better person, volunteer, look after wild life in your garden, help a neighbour, be kinder at work and think of the environment ect ect. To me that’s much better than a clap on the door step looking like a ? end


    • You’re right Jordan was a bit of an angry unnecessary reply from me there!


    • Totally agree with this article. I have been thinking the same for weeks. It’s the hypocrisy in people that is so galling. Like one comment said- do something that really helps , do it discreetly – don’t virtue signal by clapping for a minute on a Thursday eve and then go back inside your homes and expect the care workers to get back to the war zone . It’s all bullshit


  • The clapping would be a well thought out gesture had it not been for the fact that some people suffer from sensory issues and get overwhelmed by loud noises.


  • I’m a care worker on minimum income with mental illness (PTSD) working night shifts. My neighbour keeps giving me panic attacks with infernal banging on pots! Please just stop. I asked her to stop and she got offended, because I didn’t ask her in private?! I have asked her dozens of times, in private, to please stop slamming her front door so hard it shakes the house, but she won’t. This is the most egregiously empty and condescending gesture I’ve seen in my whole life. It’s just hear-breaking, actually, how easily manipulated people are: just tell them to bang on some pots and clap for carers and they won’t ask any questions about massive failure of duty from the gov. Anyway, I just want to not have panic attacks in my flat, daily caused by my neighbour. I’m sleep deprived so apologies for incoherence.


  • Regretably we forgot to clap the first time – its our kids bed time. We haven’t clapped since though. Why? Because we continually appreciate our careers. When this stops, and it will, to me its like saying you dont care any more. If you want to clap though go ahead (i have no issue with what others do to show their support, we are all diffetent), but dont then get up close to others for a natter otherwise its just hipocracy. Also do it because you want to, not because you think you should…


  • I’m so pleased I found this. I tend to dread Thursdays at 8 and cry when see my neighbours clap and wave. I love the NHS but just can’t clap. I would clap in gentle, community protest for NHS pay and PPE.


  • I find my neighbours to be the biggest hypocriteS for clapping, most people around here supported the Tory government, the government that has now starved the nhs of funding for ten years. It’s hard to bring up anything to them as they turn it around as if your not appreciating the nhs and it’s just so so intrusive. I’ve loved and respected all our public bodies, I’ve worked for the nhs in the past and seen what it’s like without adequate funding. The people work there not to get rich and most have compassion.
    I feel that we’ve exploited these people and it’s time for a change, a silent protest against the government , I suggested this to a street group on whatups and I was made to look evil. Following Thursday, they have a speaker and mic and blasted music and a singer singing so loud. It drove me mad, my kids were in bed and I wanted time to reflect and relax, I’m suffering a lot due to this covid, (like many) again more intrusion, but up a notch with a speaker and singer, and a crowd. No warning! This isn’t about the nhs, it was about them. That’s why they probably voted the same party in again who deprived the nhs of money. Characters don’t always change unfortunately. ?


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