Art is Not a Luxury

Kelly Grehan

My friends all laugh at the fact I’ve seen the musical Wicked 7 times, but it’s a source of continued disappointment to me that I haven’t seen it more times because nothing makes me feel like I feel when I see the actress playing Elphaba sing the song ‘No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.’

I don’t have any creative talent. I cannot paint or sing or dance.  But I know that seeing the right painting, hearing the right song or watching the right dance can make me feel alive.

It is a popular myth  that when Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort, he simply replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’”

Whilst this story is, alas, not true, it does represent a truth – that without art life is infinitely worse.

During the lockdown the art community have been responsible for bringing joy into our lives. I enjoyed watching Jesus Chris Superstar and A Streetcar Named Desire on YouTube. I looked forward to watching Patrick Stewart reading a sonnet every morning. Gary Barlow singing with a different singer every few days was fun. 

How many people found comfort in drawing rainbows and placing them in their windows or were cheered by counting those they saw on their daily walk? Was this not art therapy at its most basic level?

How many of us watched old films and old TV shows and found solace in them during this period?

Aside from sport, art is the thing that gets us talking, the thing that defines us. Remember the arguments people would have about the Turner Prize? Remember the excitement of seeing a band and the warm up act being so good you started downloading their songs on the way home. 

Whilst there are many industries we in the UK have lost over the years, but our arts industries have remained a source of pride.

But now the industry is in real trouble. 

The collapse of the arts, with a £74bn drop in revenues and about 400,000 potential and actual job losses in the sector owing to the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, has prompted calls for urgent government assistance, as there is little prospect of a swift return to full houses in theatres, or other live performance, and recording has been halted by social distancing restrictions.

Things are at a stage where even the Globe has warned it could face insolvency.

There is so much for us to fight for at the moment – our children’s education, out healthcare system, so much about our way of life – that it feels frivolous to be worrying about the arts. 

But

What kind of world do we want when this is all over?

I believe one where we don’t have the arts will be one with much less joy.

We must stop thinking of art as a luxury and see it something we need.

Fellow White People: Let’s Play Our Part

Kelly Grehan

Before I start writing I want to give some context.  Reader, I am nervous about what I am about to write.  Whatever I write about, I aim to do it with truth and I usually sit down to write because something has touched me and I feel inspired to write.  I feel more nervous than usual because what I am about to say will be emotive and because I am going to write about race and racism and I am very aware the last thing that the world needs is white people talking about racism.

So why write at all?  Well, I feel as if white people can and must act as allies if racism is ever to be eradicated.

Also, last week I was on the receiving end of racist social media trolls, who were very vocal in their belief I was wrong in supporting the Black Lives Matter campaign. It began when I posted a meme on my facebook wall inviting people to take the knee. I received dozens of nasty replies.

This was nothing compared to the response I got, a few days later, that I had indeed taken the knee. These are few examples.

I don’t, in any way, want to equate my experience here with the horrendous online bullying and harassment suffered by people of colour. I just want to make the point that this what can be expected by those who do speak out, and to say it won’t stop me.

Aside from the migogonistic messages I received the most common theme seemed to be that these people believed by supporting black lives matters I was supporting violence and that taking a knee on my doorstep was akin to going on a violent rampage around the town.

It is time we, as white people start to question the dangerous tropes about black people we have been conditioned to believe.

I’ve tried hard to broaden my understanding of other people and their lived experiences.   I was touched by the performance from Dave the Rapper at this years Brits Awards where he paid tribute to Jack Merritt and called out Boris Johnson on his racism.  A line that particularly resonated with me was ’If you don’t want to get it, then you’re never gonna get how the news treats Kate versus how they treated Meghan.’ 

I truly believe the vitriol aimed at Meghan Markle has shone a light on the hidden prejudices in this country.  I think’’not getting it is’’ is the deliberate motivation of all those who keep posting ‘all lives matter.’

We are letting these people pretend to “not get it” because it suits them to believe that racism either doesn’t exist or is acceptable.

I think when you are from a privileged group you can never be sure if the information you are given about another group is true, or nonsense unless you make an effort to get to know people in those groups and we must challenge ourselves to understand each other.

As a child I lived in an area where people of colour were small in numbers.  In these cases – where someone is the only person of their ethnicity in a class they can easily become seen as the sole representative of that group so that if they eat a certain food, support a certain football team or like a certain subject people assume that all people from that background do too. This isn’t malicious, but it can lead to us making judgements. We need to start questioning ourselves about where we do this.

Then there is the subtle but ever present rhetoric that white people like myself receive so that, without us thinking about it, we are taught to regard black people as more prone to violence.  For me the most obvious example of this is the Notting Hill Carnival.  I recall every August Bank Holiday there were stories on the news which always seemed to be about fights and stabbings.  I honestly have no recollection of seeing any floats or dancers.  So, without my really thinking about it I assumed the event to be very, very violent and I never questioned this perception until years later when colleagues of mine were attending and I heard them talk about the joyous time they had.  It was then I began to question why the stories about this event are so skewed compared to those about other events.  

I’m reading  Girl, Woman, Other, a novel by Bernardine Evaristo, which won the Booker Prize.  It’s a fantastic novel.  But there are times when I have to examine my reaction to the characters – primarily black women and realise I am finding them intimidating and I have to question why this is.  I think it’s because there has been so little inclusion of women of colour in mainstream literature that it almost feels like something to adapt to.  And most of what we have received has been through a white narrative. 

None of us want to believe we have any prejudice. None of us want to believe we benefit from oppressive systems. Most of us want to do good.  And while those of us who are white, continued not to question the assumptions we make about those from other backgrounds, or the systems we are part of we are letting ourselves down. 

I ask everyone white to think about the impact racism has on us – because all of us suffer from a society where other members are oppressed. If you go around assuming some people on our community are more violent than others based upon their appearance you are filing yourself with needless fear. This is bad for your life. If your kids are frightened to bring home black friends and partners because of your reaction then you are hurting them.

For a long time, I felt I was doing my bit against racism by listening to people of colour and trying to amplify their voices.

Now I know that is inadequate. To be really anti-racist means to examine yourself and what mistakes you have made and where your prejudice has come from, and to keep learning

But more importantly we need to speak out against and hold accountable all those with racist views and all institutions that discriminate.

Let’s really do better.

Take Accountability

By Victoria Oguntope

I sit here watching, listening and learning as events unfold across the US. As a black woman living in 21st Century Britain, I feel pressured, angered and compelled to deploy my voice and make a stance on the ongoing global systematic, political and social economical racism we black/brown people encounter/experience on a daily basis not only in America but also here in the UK.

To be clear, these accounts are from personal experience and that which has been told to me and witnessed.

Racism has been part of our fabric from the beginning of time and has taken different forms in our society through the evolution of time none of which has been positively received by the masses. Albeit, the US allowed a black president to occupy the Oval Office and observe a handful of black/brown Supreme Court justices appointed since its establishment in 1789.

However, the US perpetuate false progress – it observed some aphorisms in relation to education, jobs and economic growth, thus there’s a disproportionate amount of wealth, education and social economic growth. Colourism plays a major part in how the country is governed – the tragic killing of George Floyd by the hands of Minneapolis law enforcement officers, is a result of the ongoing unrest in multiple states across the US – the revolution illustrates disproportionality of the black/brown American citizens, how the black/brown communities are at a disadvantage incomparason to their white counterparts when it comes to education, businesses, housing and police brutality, often subjected to daily scrutiny, targeting and demonisation for no other reason than the colour of their skin.

Observing from the UK, there has been some support from the general public.  But I find that there is limited support from the mainstream UK media – perhaps because it suits them that way or it absolves them of any wromg doing – to acknowledge it means you have to accept that there’s in fact a systematic and global problem of ongoing racism.

As well as the US, the UK is riddled in systemic, political, social economic racism. Dare I say it! It is time as a nation that we take accountability and encourage conversation surrounding race relations and accept/address the issue.

Since the unfolding of the tragic murder of Mr. Floyd, there has been outpouring of support globally. Over the years, the conversation surrounding race relations, racism and oppression directed at people of colour has been an inconvenient truth to engage in.

While at school, the educators and the syllabus made an attempt to address black history – but it often left  me with questions or confusion, furthermore it does not help when an educator points you out in a classroom while studying apartheid in South Africa, to exclaim the notion ‘You should know all about this’ – shock horror!

I stumbled upon a recent social media post that read: “I am from the UK where everyone loves everyone and it is inclusive so it was a massive shock to my system when I visited Seattle Oregon area three years ago and saw how white supremacists are all around. It’s shocking and scary”. The above statement cannot be further from the truth. The author clearly lives in a different world to me – or like many of her peers, chooses to ignore the struggles we people of colour face on a daily basis in the UK. I suspect her privilege plays a part here – I live in a borough where the local government has done very little for my community nor does it see the significance in celebrating black history month but will embrace other celebratory occasions, suggesting that one community is more important than another – that’s the community I live in.

For many years I have experienced racism in various forms including in my professional career and personal engagements, here are some examples, one glorious morning on my way to the train station, a rather personable white woman stopped me dead in my tracks to exclaim the fact that I am black and proceeded to chant the N-word whilst following behind me; or whilst on a run a car full of young men slowing down, lobbing an apple directly at my chest and shouting the N-word; or when my white female friends feel comfortable enough to tell you that their father said they’d be ‘written out of their family will or disowned’ if they’d ever date a black boy; or when you have walked into an interview room and see the disappointment in the interviewing panels faces. This is not including the daily indignation suffered from the senior members of our society, which also form the local government by which I am governed.

To reiterate, I am NOT a victim nor do I require unsolicited sympathy, what I do ask of you is to hold yourselves, your friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances accountable.

I identify many white counterparts using the slogan “all lives matter.”

Ask yourselves this, If all lives matter, why are we people of colour subject to more scrutiny and discrimination, why is there a higher death rate in childbirth for women of colour, why are we not sought-after for prominent positions, why are we the last group to be considered for anything, why are we more likely to be stopped by law enforcement, why the unjust treatment of the windrush generation, why do we have cultural appropriation, why do we have to teach our children from a young age what it means to be from a black/brown background because at the moment, in this current climate we DO NOT have the same privileges as our white counterparts?

We live in a country that knows too well how to attain its wealth through years of colonisation, torture, indignation and slavery. In this moment, right, now, we are asking for hundreds of years of oppression and discrimination to stop. Recently a couple of people asked me what can they do to help to fix the problem; the problem originated with white people, the burden lies with the white community to address – to assume responsibility, to hold yourself accountable, for many years we have assumed the racism, demonisation, discrimination and injustices for over 400 hundred years; now is your turn to take accountability and help to stop ALL forms of racism and discrimination
towards people of colour. One thing is certain, we are no longer going to sit back and take it.

We are stronger, educated and there is power in numbers. As allies, we ask you to demand equality on our behalf, it is now your turn to take responsibility and take accountability for the injustices we face as a society.

We Are All Acting Against Our Instincts Prime Minister

Kelly Grehan

I’m angry. I’m so angry I’m struggling to keep still. I honestly feel like I could burst into tears at any moment.

I appreciate that because I am a Labour councillor people might read this and claim it is a politically motivated attack.  Fine. I honestly dont care. I’ve done something I rarely do today, I’ve tweeted thanks to Conservative MPs who have spoken out about Dominic Cummings.

I, like most people in this country, am law abiding. I follow rules. I do my best. Most people do. I am certain of it. It seems mildly amusing now they have been off so long, but the week before the schools closed I was panicked that if I got covid 19 my children might miss 2 weeks off school and spoil their high attendance records and their education – as we had always been told time off school was very detrimental.

Like all people who try to obey rules, I occasionally suffer from the worry that those who don’t obey the rules, somehow benefit and laugh are laughing at the rest of us for being ‘mugs.’

I think it’s why people are so particularly angered by benefit cheats and people who push in queues – it feels like they are ‘mugging us off’ – benefitting from our decency while not taking part in it.

But the last 10 weeks have been different. For the last 10 weeks the strength of the common endeavour was like nothing most of us have ever seen before.

People have made immeasurable sacrifices that can never be repaid that have caused them untold pain, for the common good.

I’m talking about people being unable to be at their child’s birth, unable to meet new babies, people forced to attend funerals by Skype, watch their parents take their last breath by zoom, unable to put their arms around friends diagnosed with terminal illnesses, people spending their birthdays alone, people coming home from hospital to empty houses and people day after day stuck alone caring for children or other relatives without a second of respite – including when they have illnesses themselves.

All of us are acting by the rules, rather than our instincts. Our instincts are to rush to our families and friends in times of grief, pain and celebrations. Fighting that instinct has been incredibly hard.

So, quite frankly to be told by the Prime Minister, at this late stage, after so much suffering,  that it was ok for Dominic Cumings to drive 240 miles when he had covid symptoms and had been in contact with covid positive people (including the Prime Minister and Health Secretary) to find childcare for his son as he was following ‘his instinct’ is horrific. It’s like a punch in the stomach.

Clearly the Prime Minister and Dominic Cummings consider those of us dutifully following the rules that laid out, to be mugs.

What’s more there can be no doubt that there will be people today and tomorrow who feel that they cannot fight their instincts anymore. They will go to their loved ones and the virus will spread. But who can blame them?

Dominic Cummings has caused untold harm and must be sacked.

His actions are an insult to us all.

After The Applause

Kelly Grehan

It’s now 9 weeks since the Clap For Carers event started. It’s creator now says this week’s event, the 10th, should be the last.

The first week my family went outside and clapped, alongside our neighbours, with a motivation of showing anyone in the street who was working for the NHS that we appreciated them. This was repeated in streets across the length and breadth of the country.  Many people reported unexpectedly bursting into tears on that night, back on the 26th March and indeed it was emotional. It was dark that week as we had not yet entered British Summer Time and I suspect many of us were in a state of bewilderment.  It was only 3 days then since the full lockdown had begun and we were all adjusting, apprehensive and even fearful. Empty shop shelves, closed schools, furloughing – these were all new to us then. Things like hearing the daily death count had not yet become the norm. The separations we were experiencing were new and raw and we needed to thank our NHS staff that night because their actions were the one thing we could all be certain of – they would do their best for us all. And that belief has held true to this day – the one thing that has not changed or diminished. 

Since then we have been outside every Thursday at 8pm. The weather has changed, our gardens are starting to bloom and we now bring out pots and pans to bang, some of our neighbours bring horns and bells: We have a good time.

I have concerns that rather than rewarding carers, the clapping actually does them a disservice because it fuels the rhetoric that NHS staff are ‘angels’ who act out of an unselfish vocation, and for reasons I’m not sure I can fathom this rhetoric seems to provide a cover to the argument that they do not need better pay and conditions, as it clapping shows appreciation so a pay rise or PPE are not really needed. Any arguments to the contrary are always met with accusations of ‘politicising’ the situation or a lecture on ‘now not being the time’ for such discussions.

Equally  I’m not sure many of us think of carers when we go out to clap on Thursday nights now; I think it has evolved into something else.

As the days drift into weeks and even months where there is little to differentiate one day from another for many of us, it provides some sort of structure to the week. Every week I find myself thinking ‘is it Thursday already?’

It’s almost comforting having something to mark off, an activity that separates one week from the last in the way weekends, work trip and the kids . But, more importantly, as with most people it’s the only activity I now do which involves people outside my household which isn’t done through a screen.

Before lockdown I’d always got on well with my neighbours. We had a WhatsApp group and sent each other Christmas cards but now I genuinely look forward to seeing them.  We really enjoyed spending VE Day together (but apart) and I think we are genuinely excited when anyone of us has good news and upset when any of us has bad news. In short we are a community. 

I think there is somewhat of a longing in most of us right now for community and shared experiences, and the Thursday night clap has become that. 

So, while I agree the time has probably come to end the clap, I hope we can find other shared experiences because, if we have learnt anything from this awful experience it’s how important connection is, even if it’s only for a few minutes a week.

“Women – Watch Your Tone.”

Kelly Grehan

Rosena Allin-Khan is highly qualified to talk about the impact of the Covid Crisis on hospitals – as well as being MP for Tooting she has worked in A and E at St George’s Hospital throughout the crisis. This experience, coupled with her master’s degree in public health, would – you might think – mean that when she speaks about her NHS experience the Secretary of State for Health would show some respect.

Today, in the House of Commons, having just been thanked by Speaker Lindsay Hoyle for her NHS service Dr Allin-Khan addressed Matt Hancock, saying

‘’Frontline workers like me have had to watch families break into pieces as we deliver the very worst of news to them, that the ones they love most in this world have died. The testing strategy has been nonexistent. Community testing was scrapped, mass testing was slow to roll out and testing figures are now being manipulated. Many frontline workers feel that the government’s lack of testing has cost lives and is responsible for many families being unnecessarily torn apart in grief. Does the Secretary of State commit to a minimum of 100,000 tests each day going forward? And does the Secretary of State acknowledge that many frontline workers feel that the government’s lack of testing has cost lives?”

Mr. Hancock responded by saying:

“I welcome the honorable lady to her post as part of the shadow health team. I think she might do well to take a leaf out of the shadow secretary of state’s book in terms of tone.’’

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is an A&E Doctor, as well as MP for Tooting.

I find this unacceptable on so many levels. 

Firstly, if we want to talk about the use of unacceptable tones I instantly think of the occasion in 2017 when Mr. Hancock and his colleagues cheered as they blocked a pay raise for nurses and other public servants and the evening last year when MP Paula Sheriff begged the Prime Minister to moderate his inflammatory language and think of the death threats she and fellow MPs received often quoted his language. He replied with the word ‘humbug.’ Oddly – Mr. Hancock did not seem concerned with tone then.

Perhaps Mr. Hancock believes that we should adopt a tone of ignorance and not draw attention to the fact that we now have the second highest death toll in Europe. A few months ago, I remember a tone of shock and horror accompanying news reports from hospitals in Italy. I do not recall criticism of the Italian government’s approach being discouraged. 

Or maybe, as we see time and time again – there is a backlash against strong, clever women making strong, important, irreputable points. Women, whatever their credentials are discredited and dismissed. When Anneliese Dodds was appointed Shadow Chancellor a few weeks ago I saw people online saying Keir Starmer had ‘appointed a woman to keep the feminists happy’ rather than appoint ‘someone qualified’. I think her 1st class Oxford degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, her master’s degree in Social Policy and her PhD in Government might suggest Anneliese Dodds is more than qualified.

Rather than take on the points they make – we often see questions by women given a reply emphasizing or questioning their demeanor – we all recall David Cameron telling Angela Eagles to ‘calm down dear’ when she questioned planned NHS reforms in 2011. I struggle to believe that he would have addressed a man like that, and I struggle to believe Matt Hancock would have spoken to a practicing male doctor as he did to Rosena Allin-Khan today. 

David Cameron telling Angela Eagles to “calm down dear.”

This is at best sexism, and at worse misogyny and it should not go unchallenged. 

As a woman in politics I am sick of being patronised, mansplained to and dismissed by people with less experience or less knowledge than me and I know most women in politics have had the same experiences. When you complain those perpetuating this behaviour see it as vindication that they were right and women are too hysterical and not tough enough for politics.

But we also see time and time again, the value women bring to politics, the experiences we bring are of value and I suggest Mr. Hancock and his fellow belittlers think about why they resort to responses like his today rather than respond with answers and debate. 

We Airbrushed Those In Care Homes Out Of Our Minds Before This Crisis.

‘Out of site. Out of mind.’

That’s the approach we have taken to those in care homes for as long as I can remember.

Hidden from view, the only conversations about nursing care which ever entered the public consciousness, were about the costs and never seem to result in any policy changes.

The budget which took place on 11th March, like so many previous budgets, failed to mention social care.

Older people in care homes suffer from it being part of our culture that, unlike many others, we don’t like talking about death. We hide it away from view and try to pretend it won’t get us.  Aging is not something we want to know about. We approach it largely with dread.

For younger people in care homes – because of disability or other circumstance the same invisibility applies. It’s not something most of us know much about or want to.

Maybe it’s this same culture which has facilitated the situation we now find ourselves in where those in care homes – both residents and staff are being treated so badly now.

Those in care homes are particularly affected by the covid crisis. For reasons entirely understandable and sensible care homes have not allowed visitors since before the lockdown was implemented. 

Most concerning is the lack of transparency and clarity about the scale of the spread of the disease amongst those living in care homes 

Deaths in care homes are not counted in the figures reported to us daily.  Instead they are produced on a lag a week behind and only count those who have ‘corona’ recorded as the cause of death on their death certificate.  The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics , which include every community death linked to covid 19 showed a total of 406 such deaths registered up to 3 April. That would have added an extra 11% to the official UK figures, based solely on deaths in hospitals, that were being reported at that time.  Of those extra deaths, 217 took place in care homes, 33 in hospices, 136 in private homes, three in other communal establishments and 17 elsewhere.

Charity Age UK responded by saying coronavirus is “running wild” in care homes for elderly people. Caroline Abrahams, the charity’s director, said.

“The current figures are airbrushing older people out like they don’t matter.”

It is surely a source of national shame that any of our citizens can be forgotten like this – with their deaths treated as an add on to the rest – not meriting attention or enquiry.

It might be easy to assume those in care homes were close to death anyway, as if this somehow negates the severity of the situation for them. But many of them will have had years ahead of them were it not for the virus.

Then there is the appalling situation concerning PPE (personal protective equipment). We are over a month into this crisis, and we knew for a few months before that it was coming. There can be no justification as to why staff working in care homes are still without protective equipment whilst they perform intimate care tasks with no means of knowing how may have contracted the virus. of the 1.5 million people working in care homes only 505 have been tested for corona.

As Nadra Ahmed, chairwoman of the National Care Association, said “Once you run out, it is a question of being down to Marigolds and bin liners. Government has not reacted quickly enough to build confidence in the sector that PPE is available.”

In a further act of negligence the Government had removed VAT on essential PPE kit for the NHS but claimed it had not done the same for the social care sector. 

Then there is the treatment of staff in care homes. Caring is a very difficult job – physically and mentally. Yet most people working in care homes earn just the national minimum wage. This, surely, is indicative of how little regard we, as a society hold the care of our much vulnerable citizens.

Today Matt Hancock has said he wants to introduce a single brand for social care to ensure that carers get the same sort of priority treatment that NHS staff do in some settings. Care workers will be given a badge to identify them.

Does he not think most care workers would prefer an end to their poverty wages and terrible conditions (half of workers in the care sector are on zero hours contracts)?

When this is all over I sincerely hope many things are viewed differently. The invisibility of those in care homes and the lack of respect for those who work within them must end.

My Lockdown Baby

By Rosie Wells

I was asked today to write down my experiences of having a ‘corona baby’ – a baby born in the middle of the lockdown period. l’ll start at the beginning. 

My partner and I were over the moon when I fell pregnant. With two children already with my previous partner this new baby was going to be the final piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately my pregnancy was not straight forward and I was hit with extreme morning sickness which left me pretty much unable to do anything. The medicine got it under control to an extent in the third trimester and I kept on telling myself and the kids ‘this is temporary- things will get back to normal once the baby is here’. I then got hit with a virus towards the end of my pregnancy and for 8 weeks was passing out and unable to walk or do anything but again we thought as soon as this baby is here things will get back to normal.

I promised the kids trips to the beach and that I would pick them up from school with the baby in the pram, something I was unable to do with the sickness during pregnancy. The thing getting me through was the thought of maternity leave and time with my friends and family away from the stress of work. I am lucky that I have a very strong family network and also lucky that 3 of my friends were pregnant at the same time so we made our plans for baby dates and groups and coffee (wine) mornings round each others houses.

Due to the problems with the pregnancy and the fact the baby was measuring larger than average with increased amniotic fluids I was booked in for an early induction at 39 weeks. As with all my labour’s my mum was planning on being there with me and along my partner. However a week before I was due to be induced I was forwarded a screenshot from my friend staying that they would only allow one birth partner in the labour ward. To say I was devastated would be an understatment. I think I probably cried for 3 days and so did my mum. My birth plan was being completly ruined. I know it was selfish. I knew people were sick although I don’t think I knew the extent of the virus and the harm it would cause then. However, my sister reminded me of some of the positives of it just being myself and my partner in the room. My mum had never had a phone call to say her grandchild had arrived and she was going to be able to experience that now. It meant my children would be with my mum when I was in labour so I would be happier they were somewhere safe and myself and my partner would have a special moment with just the two of us. So although I would have been happier my mum being there I took the positives.

There were rumours the schools would shut but we all thought these were just rumours and they would be at least open until the Easter holidays so I was confident I would still be able to meet the children at the school with their new baby in the pram. 


Even after discovering the schools would be shut and the social distancing measures put in place I still thought all, would be OK as my mum would still be allowed round and I would still be able to see friends at each others houses and we could all help, home school the kids . We had it all planned.


The day before I went into Darenth Valley Hospital to be induced lockdown was announced. Things started to feel a bit more real and I was suddenly terrified. All anyone was talking about was coronovirus. We went into the hospital and it was deadly quiet and very eerie. A security guard met us on the door and we had to show proof we were due to go into the labour ward. However once we got into maternity it was a very different story. It was calm and quiet but a happy and safe atmosphere. We were provided with a pass which meant that we could move out of the ward to go to the shops or leave the hospital – although this is discouraged. There wasn’t a constant bombardment of visitors in and out and everyone was just relaxed with thier one birth partner (well as relaxed as women in esrly labour can be) . There was an element of unease about everything as it was all, so new and the midwifes were doing every thing they could to reasurre us all. Guidelines were changing by the hour but they kept us well informed. After labour and discovering our new baby was a boy it was even nicer to not be allowed visitors in the ward. Yes I was a bit sad the kids couldn’t meet their new baby brother at the hospital but I couldn’t wait to get home and introduce them to Rex in the comfort of their own home. The after birth experience was by far the best of all 3 of my children. Everyone seemed more relaxed. I’ve always thought how unsettling it must be for new mums who didn’t have any one to visit them to suddenly have a whole family and kids in the bed next to them Ccoing over the new baby while they say alone. After we are out of the worst of this I wouldn’t be surprised if the visiting rules were kept. I could relax and get to know my new baby in a quiet ward and it was lovely. I made all my phone calls and let everyone know we had a new son. The midwifes said they preferred it without visitors as they could focus on the new mum and baby.

The part I found scary was when they discharged us. Everything was different and the midwifes were still unsure on what would be happening. I was told a midwife may visit or she may phone. They were unsure whether I could register my baby officially and basically just said things may change. So I left with an open mind that we may be on our own once we got home. 
I got home and was lucky enough that social distancing measures were in place but we weren’t in lockdown. It was a sad day as schools had closed and everyone seemed a bit lost. But Rex entering our home made everything seem OK again. The children were so excited to meet him and I’m very lucky that my mum got to meet him in real life.

Everyone was planning when they would come over and we had lots of dates on the diary to introduce Rex to his new family and friends. The next day the midwife visited and she helped keep my spirits up. But then came the speech from The Prime Minister when we were told lockdown measures would be put in place. This probably couldn’t have come at a worse time – day 3 when baby blues kick in. From that day on it seemed that Rex was forgotton and so was I. In a house so full up of kids and my partner I had never felt so lonely and lost. I had a new baby and I was now told I couldnt see anyone or leave the house. All those visits I had planned cancelled. No walking my pram though the streets with my baby. Everyone had their own worries and their own stresses going on and no one had time to admire my baby. And yes that’s selfish but this was going to be my last baby my last chance for this and I felt it was being stolen from me. I wanted to scream to people to stop talking about coronovirus and talk about my baby instead and ask how he slept or how I was doing but nobody did. However I decided social media is a great way to show off Rex. As someone who doesn’t overshare on facebook I found I felt much better after posting a picture of Rex and it getting lots of comments and likes and I felt that was my communication with the world. 


The midwife finished her visits but there was a marked visit from visit one where she entered the house in ordinary clothing and the final visit where she was wearing masks, gloves and aprons and then everything felt more real. However scary it was, it still the same midwife who we laughed with on the first day and she was as happy and kind as when we first met her. The support is still there albeit mostly on the phone but there is still 24 hour access to support.  


The health visitor rang to say she would not be visiting and a phone call would happen instead. The phone call lasted about 45 minutes and they were supportive but its a shame to not have a face to face as a new mum as even small interactions can be a nice distraction. I did however get booked on to see a midwife to check Rex’s weight at the health visitor when he is 4 weeks old as he hasn’t regained his birth weight and is still slightly jaundice. 


Never did I imagine when I fell pregnant that the first time my dad would meet his grandson would be through a window however sad this made me feel I thought of the stories we could tell Rex when he is older and I have to remember this is not forever.

So do I feel negative now 3 weeks into lockdown with a 3 week old? Surprisingly no. The time together with my partner and children to bond has been lovely. I’ve spent more time cuddling Rex than I did with any of my other children and I have rested more so my body has recovered a lot quicker. Yes I’m exhausted probably more than I would normally be as I’m home schooling two children whilst getting used to life with a newborn and I miss my family and friends more than I ever could have imagined but we are taking every day as it comes – doing craft, DIY around the house and jobs we never thought we would get done. Small things now make me so much happier. The other day the postman knocked and noticed Rex and we had a good talk about him while she admired him and it made my day. I take my pram out for exercise although we don’t go every day but every day I take the pram into the garden so I still get to use it. I’ve also come to look forward to the Thursday clap for NHS. The meaning behind it is great but in all honesty it’s the time of the week where I bring Rex out and all my neighbours ask how he is and I update them from a distance. I facetime my family and friends every day and we spend a lot of time planning what we are doing when lockdown is released. We have planned catch ups and a big welcome to the world party so everyone can finally meet him without a pane of glass between us. 

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. 

We Should Not Be Having To Fight For Access To Abortion In The Middle Of a Crisis. But Here We Are

Kelly Grehan

The covid 19 crisis has transformed so much of our lives in such a short space of time. We need to ensure access to all areas of healthcare remains accessible. Having an abortion is a medical procedure which should be easily accessible on demand.

In the next 13 weeks as the COVID 19 peaks, 44,000 women will need an Early Medical Abortion. Many of the women needing them will be those with underlying health issues who have already been told to self isolate. All of us must avoid unnecessary journeys, we are told.

As with everything at the moment, services are being impacted upon by staff absences.  A quarter of abortion clinics run by bpas have closed because of staff isolating, so anyone  wanting to access an abortion may have to travel further than usual. We also know that usual practicalities – including childcare are much harder at the moment.

There is now a real danger that women will not be able to access abortion services.

On Monday the Department of Health and Social Care issued guidance, inline with The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, The Royal College of Midwives and the British Society of Abortion Care Providers, making  recommendations to introduce a safe & effective, temporary telemedicine service for women seeking terminations. Later that day it was retracted. No reason was given.

Just to be clear what we are talking about, an early abortion involves taking two forms of medicine.  The first medicine ends the pregnancy by blocking the hormone progesterone. Without progesterone, the lining of the uterus breaks down and the pregnancy cannot continue.  The second medicine makes the womb contract, causing cramping, bleeding and the loss of the pregnancy similar to a miscarriage.

In medical terms this is a relatively simple procedure. So why is being denied to women now?  It is hard to see this as anything other than an attack on Women’s healthcare – at a time when many women are already suffering.

Dr Jonathan Lord, co-chair of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) Abortion Taskforce and British Society of Abortion Care Providers (BSACP) made these comments 

“It seems extraordinary how government advice is, quite rightly, to isolate in order to contain the spread of the virus – unless you are a woman requiring essential health care, in which case the Government will force you to go on a completely unnecessary journey to a crowded clinic or hospital.   I simply cannot understand why the Government is behaving in such a cruel and reckless manner towards women’s health.”

Is there reason to fear that we will see a roll back of our much fought for rights in the months ahead?

 In Texas, abortion services have been haulted in a move by the Governor to suspend “surgeries and procedures that are not immediately, medically necessary.”

Women seeking terminations need compassion, now more than others. I implore   Matt Handcock to listen to clinical experts regarding terminations and women’s reproductive health during this crisis and reverse his decision.