The NHS turns 72 years old today and never have we needed her so much.
I have worked within the NHS for the last 30 years. It is a career that brings challenge, heartache and so much pride but anything witnessed before has recently been blown out of the water.
I am so proud of the NHS teams that I have had the privilege to work with. I am seeing surgeons, physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, managers, GPs, porters, radiographers and so many more just coming together as #TeamNHS. The support networks have been amplified with food, well wishes, hand creams, masks, scrubs and even small hearts!
We have turned wards and theatre recovery areas into intensive care units, normal wards into intensive respiratory wards and challenged our staff at every level to work harder and harder. We have seen such death and illness in a short time frame and have done our best in difficult times.
We are used to looking after ill people, it is our bread and butter. The tragedy of illness and death is interwoven with the human interaction, a squeeze of a gnarled hand, the smile of a memory and a shared laugh even when death can be the only outcome. Patients and relatives rely on the human interaction, meeting with doctors, learning how to cope and the joy of going home to loved ones. All of this has had a hard stop with COVID-19. The masks, gowns and need to physically exclude friends and families have added barriers to patient care in a way never seen before.
Healthcare professionals talk about emotional injury where we support you and relatives in illness and death, but we keep the emotions we feel, of sadness and pain, internal. This is balanced by your thank yous and the joy of discharging a patient in better health, able to resume their own lifestyle.
This mental stress that has challenged our wellbeing has been added to by the daily battle for personal protective equipment causing a fear of coming into work, especially for those from a BAME background.
COVID-19 has stripped us all of the ability to cope. We are not NHS Heros, we are normal people, trying to do an exceedingly difficult job. The emotional injury has been high as wards have dealt with heart wrenching stories that have developed often overnight. Relatives relate seeing their loved ones deteriorate rapidly, taken by ambulance to hospital and then not seen again. This has been even more difficult when these patients are one of our own and were working with us days before. The numbers of healthcare staff affected has been huge and the faces of those who have passed are remembered in the picture below. To make this time even more difficult, the solace of families and colleagues coming together for funerals has been destroyed.
The NHS is beginning to open up services again, so that patients awaiting operations and outpatients clinics can visit safely. As the levels of COVID-19 decrease both the NHS and society can start breathing again. I hear talk of going back to normal, but we will never go back to normal.
Within the NHS, we have learnt to use technology to communicate with patients and colleagues. Rather than bringing you to an outpatient appointment at a time that maybe inconvenient to you, we can reach out whilst you are still at work, so that you do not need to take a whole day off but rather just a 15 minute break,
Rather than travel into London for a short meeting, we can Team in, and get so much more done. We have moved healthcare into communities and redefined our paternalistic view of healthcare risk. Perhaps we have finally realised that the patient knows best.
This new norm comes with societal responsibility if we hope to enjoy the freedom of social interaction, good health, travel and economic growth. As a society, we need to realise that we have to work and care together if we wish to develop an equitable society.
The recent scenes of beaches on the south coast or in Soho and Brixton are just appalling. COVID-19 has not gone away, it is just hiding, waiting to raise its head again. The loud voices protesting that they are young and therefore invincible should remember the vulnerable (and often in ways invisible to the naked eye). It is their lives that you put at risk when travelling home or during your food shop on your way home from your day frolicking in the sun. Social distancing must be the new norm unless we have a true track and trace or a vaccine for all. Huge gatherings with no public toilets open just is too ugly to think about.
So much good has been and can be achieved. We have seen a shift change in the care of people who have become homeless. We now need to see dramatic shift changes in many other aspects of societal norm.
Organisations must address inequalities of representation within their workforce and senior boards. Historic privilege will be challenged and equity, inclusion and diversity representing those around us must be the new norm.
This is the time where kindness and doing the right thing must be the minimum standard. So many people have shielded for the last four months and are now taking tentative steps to developing a new routine. Let us support them and each other by thinking of the greater good.
Those who say that we are going through the most difficult time, need to remember that our senior generation have been through two world wars, an economic depression as well as wars such as Vietnam. They have been through rationing and the harshness of a global recession.
What are we asking society to do? To wash hands, wear a mask and keep a social distance.
Is this so hard? Let us set the standard together and challenge ourselves to protect others. This is not about COVID-19. This is also about flu, norovirus,and everything else that challenges the NHS in the winter months.
So Happy Birthday #NHS, let us raise a huge cheer for what has been achieved and for overcoming what is to come.