As testing continues not to be rolled out, NHS workers and those in their care are increasingly at risk, argues Alia Butt. Clap for them this Thursday
Over a month ago, the UK suffered its first corona fatality. Since then, we have had over 8077 positive cases, and 442 of those have resulted in death. However, as the general public are unable to access tests, these statistics are incomplete. Many people who fear they may have the virus are calling their doctors or NHS direct and are being encouraged to self-isolate, but are not being given the option of finding out whether or not they are infected. Neither are thousands of frontline workers who continue to provide essential services around the country. Frontline workers such as teaching staff, hospital porters, cleaning staff, delivery drivers, supermarket workers, health and social care workers and transport staff come into contact with hundreds of members of the general public on a daily basis. This can only be a recipe for disaster. Moreover, NHS frontline workers such as doctors, nurses, paramedics, radiographers, anaesthetists, psychologists, psychiatrists etc., are not being tested for the virus either.
Covid-19 can stay undetected in our systems for up to 14 days. It is a virus that may cause little to no damage to some, and can prove fatal for others, particularly those with underlying health conditions or above the age of 70. Considering this, the fact that frontline workers - particularly those in the NHS who have physical contact with high risk groups - are not being tested, makes very little conceivable sense.
To make matters worse, none of the aforementioned frontline workers are being provided personal protective equipment (PPE) to prevent the potential spread of covid-19. It is not clear as to why provisions have not been made available until now, but it was announced on Tuesday that the Government are finally sending hospitals PPE. This equipment is however completely untested, making it potentially even more dangerous than it not being provided at all.
Given the government’s complete lack of preparation and failure to deal with what has now been labelled a global pandemic, NHS staff have been taking matters into their own hands, as trusts, as service provisions and as individuals. Using professional judgement, clinicians have been finding ways to juggle the pros and cons of continuing to work in house. I work in community mental health, and given the circumstances, I do not believe my patients currently require face to face contact. I work in specialist children’s services where we have vulnerable patients who may have underlying medical conditions, and was able to make the decision to work from home weeks ago. It is not feasible for us to close entirely; it is less responsible to continue having face to face contact with patients while being untested and unprotected. I spoke with a colleague in a neighbouring borough, who also works with young people, which inevitably provides a deeper insight into the wider implications of the government’s mishandling of the crisis. She says:
'I work in child and adolescent mental health (CAMHS) and have already started to see the impact of the crisis on children. For example, high levels of anxiety in children who were aware of the risks but whose parents still had to go to work in service industries for fear of losing money or their jobs. Children in poor families in already precarious circumstances face increasing material insecurity on top of the anxieties those in richer families will have. I’ve been directing families to their local mutual aid groups in the absence of any other help. Children’s social workers in my borough have been told to continue with ‘business as usual’ despite neighbouring boroughs using video technology and other ways of working to reduce the infection risk posed to and by them of home visits to consecutive vulnerable families. The leaders of the Labour council have also chosen to use the coronavirus to try to push through contract changes for all council staff and avoid planned strike action. So I have also been helping colleagues to organise against local authority managers who appear frighteningly out of touch with reality.’
After weeks of dithering, despite clear indication from the WHO stating that people should avoid contact with others, Johnson has finally asked the public to essentially stay home unless they are needed on the frontline. It is now clear that the situation is critical, and that the already weakened NHS is at crucial breaking point.
Please read and sign the following petition by NHS doctors and psychologists demanding safer working conditions and tests for those showing symptoms of covid-19: https://www.change.org/p/petition-for-nhs-senior-management…
If there has been any doubt regarding the importance of valuing frontline workers, it can now be eradicated. A surge of support has been shown by restaurants offering discounts and supermarkets reserving certain hours exclusively for NHS staff members. In an attempt to mirror the beautiful ‘claps for healthcare workers’ in Madrid, a clap for NHS workers is being arranged in solidarity for staff continuing to work all hours to try and carry the crisis. The NHS which has been heavily under-resourced for years now, is having to call on retired staff as well as students to come back or prematurely join the NHS, respectively. Medical staff are being asked if they can use transferable skills in roles they are not trained to do. Nurses are resorting to makeshift protective equipment, and donning bin bags to cover themselves up in overwhelmed London hospitals. A concerned doctor working in a central London hospital says:
'There is an overwhelming consensus among frontline healthcare staff that there is a real need to ramp up testing in the community and hospitals. It is a real concern on the shop floor - particularly for those who have self-isolated and come back to work. They need to know they will not spread potential virus to other staff or vulnerable patients. WHO have already outlined the need to test to understand the spread of the disease; the true prevalence of the mortality rate. This is required to plan our services.'
Staff are exhausted, but will not let this stop them. Please join us on Thursday 26th March in showing support and appreciation: https://clapforourcarers.co.uk/
The Corona crisis poses the question of whether we will allow society to return to a system that clearly was not working, or whether we will stop, reflect, and attempt to level out the now obvious unfairness of society, to make way for something better.
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