No Excuses. Our Health Staff Deserve Better Than This.

By Kelly Grehan

The anger is growing in me.

Our front line workers are dying: doctors, nurses, health care assistance.

This seems to be treated as inconsequential.

Last week, while giving the Daily Covid 19 briefing, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said “Four doctors have died and some nurses.”

Some nurses?

Yesterday he was asked to specify how many nurses have died.  He referred the question to the Chief Nursing Officer, who failed to give an answer either.

Today we were told 19 NHS staff have died. This was seemingly announced only after an outcry that they didn’t know yesterday.  Health charities have already disputed the accuracy of this figure.

Four weeks into this crisis health staff are still without adequate personal protective equipment. How can we be expecting them to step into what is essentially a battlefield without protective equipment?

Rather than apologising for this, or maybe even sorting it out, Matt Hancock took the opportunity yesterday  to ask NHS workers to treat PPE like a “precious resource.” Anyone who has ever worked in a radicalised environment knows this is counter to anything they have ever been told. PPE (gloves, aprons etc) are to be used for one task and one patient then thrown away. That’s its very point: to be used once and thrown away. 

You know what should be treated like a ‘precious resource ‘ Mr Hancock? 

Our NHS staff.

But that’s never been the case. 

For too long we – as a society – have failed to appreciate the work of our health workers.  We have ignored the physical and mental impact that looking after sick people has on people.  

Nurses have always received strange treatment in the UK. People call them ‘angels.’ But have been content to let them receive terrible pay and conditions. Other NHS jobs like portering or cleaning were largely seen as unimportant.

Only a few weeks ago we were told that health care assistants, and numerous other hospital workers  were among the ‘unskilled workers’ whom we did not need to include in the immigration system. Here we are relying on these same ‘unskilled’ workers to manage the front line in the worse health epidemic we have ever seen.

In 2016 junior doctors were described as “money grabbing” and ”selfish” by parts of the press when they took strike action over changes to their contract.

Let us remember these same doctors are now being forced to make decisions over who gets life saving equipment.

Why do we have a nursing shortage? Maybe because of the contemptuous manner nurses are treated.

According to CV Library the average nurse salary is £25,578 within the UK. Below the average salary in the country which is £28,677. Nurses study for 3 years and work in an incredibly demanding environment.

Until 2016-17 students doing a first degree in nursing received a bursary from the government worth up to £16,454 a year to help boost the NHS’s supply of “homegrown” nurses. That included payment of a student’s tuition fees of up to £9,000 and a maintenance grant of £1,000, neither of which were means-tested. In 2017 this was scrapped in a reckless move, announced by George Osborne. It was to be reinstated this year. I wonder how many potential nurses were financially unable to train in that time.

At the beginning of this year we had 43,000 nursing vacancies in England.

In June 2017 Conservative MPs cheered as they voted down a bid to scrap the 1% pay-rise cap for NHS nurses.  Every Tory MP except one voted against Labour’s motion, which came during Theresa May’s stint as prime minister.

I’ll just repeat that. THEY CHEERED. 

That’s the contempt they held NHS staff in.

And if we want to sum up the scale of NHS neglect these figures surely sum it up:

The European average for the number of critical care beds per 100,000  is 11.5, while the figure in Germany is 29.2, according to a widely-quoted academic study here dating back to 2012 which doctors said was still valid. Britain has 6.6. 

This can only mean that our health staff are now working in situations akin to a war zone – a lack of staff, equipment and protective equipment.

We simply must not tolerate the treatment our NHS staff endure anymore.

I want every health care professional given full protective equipment now. If it’s not there I want to know why not.

For every nurse (or other care professional) that dies I want to hear their name, I want their sacrifice acknowledged and honoured by this country. I want to know their family will be provided for by the state.

When this is over I want their names on memorial stones and I want the health secretary to know how many of them there are and to say their names out loud.

I want every single job in the health sector recognised as a skilled one. Porters, cleaners, doctors, physios, occupational therapists, radiographers, midwives –  every single one. I want their terms and conditions to reflect this.

 No excuses. 

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