It breaks my heart, but I won’t be clapping for our carers any more. When 8pm rolls round on Thursday evenings, my door will stay shut, and I won’t be joining the whistles, claps and whoops of my street. I won’t linger a few minutes afterwards chatting to my neighbour.
On Thursday nights, our streets should stay silent, our lights off and our windows dark.
Clapping isn’t just for Covid-19. Most of us have been “clapping” for the NHS and care workers all our lives. Supporting them, valuing them, thanking them. At one time or another, every member of my family has been treated by an NHS worker, whether it’s a GP or a hospital consultant. My daughter’s life has been saved by the NHS. Such a small sentence for such an immeasurable service. These days, my frail and elderly father, who’s lost his mobility, is looked after by carers who come to the house; he can still be with the family and yet he can receive the care he needs.
Our clapping doesn’t stop any healthcare worker from being sent into danger everyday. It doesn’t protect them and it doesn’t stop them dying.
The NHS is our go-to place when we’re suffering, in pain or dangerously ill. We put ourselves into the hands of the doctors and nurses who treat us, we benefit from the support work done by porters and cleaners. They rarely fail us.
It’s now our turn not to fail them. Our clapping doesn’t stop any healthcare worker from being sent into danger everyday. It doesn’t protect them and it doesn’t stop them dying.
But our clapping gives the impression things are working and lets the government off the hook. In fact it lets them join us, as if they’re not responsible for the perilous situation in which healthcare workers find themselves, and for the deaths of healthcare staff. They can step out at 8pm, Boris Johnson (now he’s back), Hancock, Rishi Sunak and all the others, as if they moved heaven and earth to provide tests and equipment for our medical staff and care workers.
It’s a government’s duty to protect its citizens, and that includes all healthcare staff. What happens to us, if at the end of this Covid pandemic there aren’t enough medical staff or care workers to look after the general population?
It always seemed rather suspicious when the government started announcing they’d made available, this many and that many million pieces of Personal Protective Equipment. I’d think, surely they should be announcing them as kit, the combination of gown, masks, gloves and so on, which form the required protection for front-line staff.
And now we know, from the Panorama programme their accounting was highly creative if not downright imaginary. To count a pair of gloves, as two gloves, to include waste bags and paper towels as PPE, is simply a lie. I’m surprised they didn’t count the individual sheets in the rolls of paper towels. That would have increased the numbers even more gratifyingly for the government.
It’s not just a scandal, it’s dangerous and a dereliction of duty. Lives are at stake. The lives of healthcare staff and the lives of their patients. Coronavirus is the deadliest disease for a hundred years. Our government knew from January onwards what was heading towards Britain. They had time to prepare and organize supplies. “We’ve been put on the front-line but without front-line protection,” says Dr. Irial Eno in the Panorama programme. As a viewer, it was alarming to watch the young doctor who dons a thin plastic apron, as his PPE, knowing he’s on his way to treat patients with Covid-19.
The government wants us to be Clapping for Carers every week; generating a victorious atmosphere and neatly shifting attention away from their own failings. Britain is one of the richest countries in the world. It had the money and the infrastructure to start organizing PPE, ventilators and other essentials, as soon as the threat became clear at the beginning of the year. Our Covid response didn’t have to become this terrible, double-edged sword where our health workers are as endangered as the patients they’re trying to save.
Over 100 healthcare workers have died so far. Their photographs haunt our imaginations, so vivid and full of life. They weren’t in a war zone. When they took on their jobs they didn’t know they’d be required to lay down their lives. All of them have left behind families and loved ones. The heartbreak must be unbearable.
Hard as it is, I won’t be clapping on Thursday nights. We all value our NHS and admire the courage and dedication of healthcare staff. In return, we should be demanding the government do not endanger them and must provide proper protection. Let’s silence the streets, turn off our lights and darken our windows. Send a message the government cannot ignore.
Ravinder Randhawa is an author and blogger.