NHS staff clap outside Chelsea and Westminster hospital in London. Photograph: Guy Bell/REX/Shutterstock
Iwork for the NHS as a doctor. I don’t work “on the frontline” because there isn’t one; I’m not in the army and we aren’t engaged in military combat. But I do work as a consultant on a ward where we have had Covid-19, and colleagues of mine have been very unwell. The requirement to be constantly vigilant and to manage the infection risk makes work more difficult, more stressful, and at times more tragic.
Obviously I carry on going to work – it is my job, one that I enjoy and am being well paid for. I am pleased to have a reason to leave the house. I have a very decent and secure income so count myself extremely lucky.
It would, however, be nice to have clarity about many things, from testing to isolation to proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE). It would also be nice to have worked for the past 10 years in an adequately funded NHS, staffed by people listened to by the government. It would be nice to see appropriate remuneration for the low-paid staff holding the service together, to see that the value of immigrants to the NHS is appreciated, and to have a health service integrated with a functioning social care service.
What I don’t find nice, and I really don’t need, is people clapping. I don’t need rainbows. I don’t care if people clap until their hands bleed with rainbows tattooed on their faces. I don’t even (whisper it) need Colonel Tom, lovely man as he clearly is.
I know many of my colleagues appreciate the clapping, saying that they feel moved and grateful, that the coming together of the community to support the NHS warms the heart. There are others, like me, whose response is that it is a sentimental distraction from the issues facing us.
Even those who liked it at the beginning are becoming wary of the creeping clapping fascism, the competition to make the most obvious and noisiest display, the shaming of non-clappers. Some argue that it unites us, that we’re all in this together. But when, for whatever complex reasons, we hear that poorer areas have double the death rate, with people from ethnic minorities disproportionately affected, I think: are we really in this together? Maybe people should clap a bit louder in inner-city Birmingham than in Surrey.
Are we still allowed to complain about poor resources and potentially unsafe working conditions now we’ve had clapping, rainbows, free doughnuts and a centenarian walking round his garden for us? How dare we?
The NHS is not a charity and it isn’t staffed by heroes. It has been run into the ground by successive governments and now we are reaping the rewards of that neglect, on the background of the public health impact of years of rampant inequality in the UK.
The coronavirus crisis has shone a light on lots of good and bad things in this country. It is of course to be welcomed that key workers, including those for the NHS and social care, are being increasingly valued. I hope the reality is dawning that immigrants and BAME staff are vital to the NHS and we couldn’t manage without them.
But don’t feel you need to clap. Enough with the rainbows. When this ends, people need to show their value of key-working staff in practical ways; pay them enough to be able to live in our cities, and recognise, support and welcome immigrant staff who prop this country up. Listen to the views of NHS workers when they raise concerns, address the culture of blame and bureaucracy. Even my colleagues who still appreciate the clapping will bang a saucepan to that.
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