The NHS deserved better, we all deserved better…

Saturday 26 June 2021

A day after the story of his affair with a government aides hits the media, Matt Hancock, The Health Secretary, finally resigns. For me, although allegedly not for his boss, Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, this is beyond doubt the only correct decision to have made. Why? Because so many deserved so much better than Hancock.

Firstly there is the NHS, our NHS, the epitome of a national treasure, even before covid-19 overtook our lives. They surely deserve a more fitting figure-head.

In 2017, The King’s Fund in a publication, ‘What do the public think about the NHS?’ marking the 70th birthday of Bevan’s formation of a national health service, found unwavering support the system. At this time, 4 in 5 of us had, consistently held the view that ‘the NHS is crucial to British society and we must do everything we can to maintain it’. And throughout the pandemic, respect, gratitude and sheer love for the heroic efforts of our exhausted doctors, nurses and carers has known few limits.

So when the call came to ‘save lives and protect the NHS‘ is could not have been a more important one. People did make heartbreaking decisions and NHS staff did live and work through horrific times to support them. So Hancock’s breach of the very covid regulations he exhorted us to follow, is an immense and shocking betrayal. Of equal gravitas, moving forward, is the reality that he would have had absolutely zero credibility in promoting further health care messages and any necessary restrictions and this, at it worst, could endanger lives and threaten our beloved health service. It was just not good enough for our NHS; it was completely untenable for him to continue.

Secondly there are the volunteers who have supported the vaccine roll out. On Saturday morning, I munch my bran flakes watching the BBC news report from a Vaccine Drop-(£in Centre in York, made possible by an enthusiastic set of volunteers. Ten of thousands have responded to the call to ‘Get the Jabs Done’, given their time freely and braved the elements to push forward a Vaccination Programme, in whose glory Hancock was only too eager to bask and boast. And an amazing programme is has been.

So, how galling for them to hear that, as they shivered in the rain at a local sports centre, Hancock’s favourite university pal, was snugly housed in the Department of Health on a £1000 a day job as an ‘aide’. No-one seems able to articulate why she was there, nor what the salary covered. Was our former Health Secretary just looking to improve his kissing technique? If so, Louise Rennison’s hilarious ‘Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging’ is now on Amazon from £0.99, and would have left a few more pounds in the coffers! But seriously, if this aide has had some impact on the pandemic or national health-care, can we know what it is? Surely our wonderful army of unpaid volunteers deserve this at the very least.

Thirdly there is the public at large. Don’t we just deserve better people to lead us? Is it too much to ask that we can respect and look up to those that we vote into the positions of highest power and privilege, as opposed to watching toe-curling videos of them smooching around their offices, like teenagers behind the bike-sheds? We hear that the government agenda is about ‘re-building better’. Please can this start with some professional development on leadership and standards for the Cabinet? Those who make decisions always need ethical frameworks to work within. For our MPs, I understand that this is the ‘Ministerial Code’ and that technically Matt Hancock did not break this. But, for goodness sake Matt, to quote your own guidance, it is not just about technicalities at times like this,

“People need to not just follow the letter of the rules but follow the spirit as well and play their part…”

Matt Hancock January 2021

Finally, there is his family. Now I am not here to pass any judgement on the state of anyone’s marriage but, the fact remains that his wife and children have had to see all the images, comments and memes as well. Whatever they decide to do,they will need time to communicate, listen, repair and heal. And surely from Day One, of this mess Hancock should have gone to spend time with his children rather than spending another minute trying to hang onto his, and I quote his boss here, ‘totally f***ing useless‘ attempts to run our Health Service. They just deserve so much better…

DI …just whY?

Friday 9 April 2021

Lockdown – it does strange things to a person who likes to be busy!

Week one of the Easter Holidays and I make it my quest to sort out the mess with my daughter’s covid-19 vaccine. I reach the first step of the complaints procedure for our GP practice, receive a very nice call from the practice manager and we have a Pfizer clinic date in the diary before tea-time on Tuesday. And that leaves the rest of the week free. Dangerously free. I am very tempted to start on a mountain of paper work for school, but sternly tell myself that I need a break. And thus, for reasons I can only attribute to Locked-down madness, I find myself tottering up the stairs towards my bedroom … armed with rollers, tins of paint and dust sheets. Why did nobody stop me?

The daring ‘feature’ wall is painted without incident and I move confidently onto the rest, sloshing generous amounts of ‘Magnolia’ into a fresh tray. In my defence, how was I to know that there was a hole in the thing? I do wonder why there seem to be growing puddles of paint on my expertly strewn dust sheets, but put it down to a little initial over-enthusiastic pouring and roller on with vigour, blissfully unaware of any issues. It is only as I move the tray from ground level to the top of my ladder, in readiness for those final tricky high bits, that the leaky tray is unmasked. Paint drips from the bottom of the tray onto my hair, my surprised face and my long suffering ‘painting shirt. In the blink of an eye, albeit not my gunked up lashes, I am a Magnolia mess!

Fortunately I do have a spare tray and use it to stem the flow. Less fortuitously, alas, in all the confusion, I have failed to register the fact that I am also standing in sticky, spilled paint. I’ll be frank, the paint-covers are now so sodden with the stuff, it would have been impossible to avoid. As I potter off to find a sink to clean myself up, I leave a trail of magnolia footprints in my wake. The rest of the afternoon is spent in the company of ‘Dr Beckman Carpet Cleaner‘ scrubbing the floor and stairs! I decide to abandon my decorating for the day in favour of a very large glass of red!

Next morning I am up early and back on the case, with waning enthusiasm but a stoic acceptance that there simply is no way back. It’s the wall behind my bed. There is limited space to pull the bed into and so, for the higher parts of the wall, I cast aside my step ladders and elect to balance on the bed itself. Within moments, my left leg is slipping through the gap between the bedding and the headboard. I grab onto the top of the board, and wrap my arms around it to stop the slide but then I am completely stuck, jammed in by the mattress, pillows and several slightly soggy dust sheets. It is not at all dignified. It is far from my finest hour, but I am unable to move and left with only one option,

Help!” I call into a silent house of sleeping teenagers

After 3 minutes which feel like a lifetime and several plaintive cries, a groggy Small Boy arrives, looks appalled, deals with the mattress and I am yanked unceremoniously back to freedom.

Tonight, I am recovering with at least one full bottle of wine. My leg is very sore. My back aches. The room is, thank the Lord, all but finished. Any final touches can, I vow, most definitely wait until 2022. I have paint in my hair, all over my feet (and my knees?). There have just got to be better ways than this to take a break from work… even in a national Lockdown!

Zoom coffee anyone?

Vaccine 2!

Monday 5 April 2021

Is it just me or do other people turn on the TV and just wonder ‘what on earth‘ is everyone talking about?

An erstwhile fan of the Smiths, I did, long ago, claim that Morrissey has a ‘lyric for every situation’ and the line racing around my head most Spring mornings in 2021 is that the news , “says nothing to me about my life...” Never more so than with the vaccine.

In December 2020, when Margaret Keenan became the ‘first person in the world’ to get the Covid-19 vaccination, it was a joyful and emotional moment. Not only our first real chink of light in the grim lockdown tunnel but also a fantastic symbol of humanity; that the first person to be chosen came not from the ranks of the most powerful but from the population of those most at need. After months of a devastating global pandemic, whilst it made clear sense in terms of medical resources, this was also a powerful symbol that we chose to value our grandparents and loved ones as highly as great leaders and the economy. We cared about everyone….or did we?

Several months later, a generation of jabbed adults appear to have forgotten about those still at risk, and have turned their thoughts towards: vaccine passports, foreign holidays and seats in football stadia. I am lost because, although millions of ‘stay-at-home’ adults, for whom age was an easy filter, are now wrapped in AZ or Pfizer protection, one person very lose to my heart is still waiting. My second child has not yet received her vaccination, despite being assigned to a higher priority group that anyone else in our house, and we really would like that extra layer of protection for her. Not for exotic beaches, or trips to the theatre, or nights at the pub, but just to reduce the risk of hospitalisation. This, in brief is why.

Five years ago, a severe run of asthma attacks, resulted in my daughter being hospitalised on three separate occasions. The first; a bewildering blur, introduced to the world of ‘blue lighting’ and oxygen-masking as frightened novices. The second; a complete body blow, as my head and heart had to accept that asthma is not something you cure, rather an ever present condition, that may strike at any time. The third, and most severe was a wake up call for me that, single parent or not, I needed to do better.

The third occasion included the most aggressive treatment. Due to oxygen levels dropping unexpectedly, my girl was required to undergo several hours of intensive treatment, attached to a mask and machine that made her incredibly ill. She would struggle, wave at me in panic. I’d remove the mask. She would be sick and beg to stop, plead for even a short break. The nursing staff would kindly but firmly re-attach the mask and she would be made to continue. It went on all day. By 9pm the nurse arrived with the latest readings and the awful news that she would have to resume treatment for the third time that day. I was aghast, because I would not be there. I was the only adult in the house and had two other children, both under 15, ‘home alone’. The nursing staff assured me, as I left, that they would ‘look after her’. But they did not. Not due to lack of kindness, I hasten to add, but lack of staffing. My daughter was left, struggling alone on the machine, ringing a bell that was never answered and vomiting into her own slippers. Eventually, some one else’s mum came to help her and clean her up. Imagine my shame!

As I listened to her account the next morning, and dropped the gruesome slippers into the garbage can, I promised her that ‘never again’ would she do this alone. If our hospital system relied upon parents sharing in the non-critical care, I accepted that I had failed to play my part. It was time for me to swallow any shred of pride I had left and beg for yet more help and favours from friends and family to enable me to stay on the ward in future. Happily, however, fortune shone on us over the ensuing years. Transferred from our patchy primary provision to Consultant Care, we benefitted from a return to the routine calendared checks, we’d enjoyed when living ‘down south’. My daughter’s meds were cranked ever higher, but on the upside her asthma seemed relatively under control. And then corona virus arrived.

I watched the scenes of patients in Italy on ventilators, fighting for breath. I heard the chilling news; that covid- patients were allowed no visitors and it was like re-awakening to a former nightmare. Any promises I may have made to ‘always be there’ suddenly looked very flimsy. Ex-Hub and I discussed our daughter uprooting to move to live with him for the duration of Lockdown 1, but for various reasons decided against it. Instead she lived in her room, eating meals off a tray, working, sleeping and being alone within the family unit. In April 2020, came the truly tragic story of a 13 year old child dying alone in a UK hospital. We were stunned but deeply thankful for the subsequent decision by Matt Hancock to change these rules and sanction limited visitors for covid patients. And gradually, life became a little more bearable.

Indeed we grew used to the virus. We followed the rules. We returned to school and college. We kept ourselves as safe as possible and I’d be lying if I claimed that we continued to be anxious about its threat. But the landscape has changed now. There is a vaccine. My daughter has been prioritised for it and I know she deserves this extra level of protection. Unfortunately, as a ‘child’, a few weeks shy of 18, she has to await a GP appointment and a vial of Pfizer and although, as advised I call weekly, our practice have not been able to provide this for 5 frustrating weeks. In that time, I’ve been jabbed. My eldest child, as a medical student, has been jabbed. My son has had covid, so probably has antibodies. In our home, the only member of the household still to receive additional protection is the only person who really needs it. So you’ll forgive me if I’m not in the debate about passports, outdoor beer gardens or elbowing my way to the front of the queue for FA cup tickets, because quite frankly I’m nowhere near future plans. Right here, right here, right now I simply ask that this ‘world beating’ vaccination programme does its primary job and protects the vulnerable… my vulnerable. Isn’t that more than enough for anyone?

Vaccine!

Saturday 27 March 2021

Today I get my first does of covid-19 vaccine…

Vaccines, vaccines, vaccines! Is there any other topic of conversation these days? Who should be jabbed? Who shouldn’t? Vaccine side effects, vaccine efficacy, vaccine passports. I even hear a radio presenter debating ‘what to wear’ for his vaccine!

At work on Monday, as the PC begins its reluctant crawl into action, knowing I have 5 minutes to fill, I too launch into a vaccine discussion with one of my classes,

So vaccines for football players? What do you think? Think I’m mostly for it. It’s a bit of a strong analogy ,Year 11, but like the gladiators of Rome, we have sent them into the arena to entertain us and they probably deserve to be protected?”

” Oh Miss no! Terrible idea!” chirps up us a football fan on the front row, “At times this season, it has really helped us to have half the opposition’s team taken out with covid!”

Well, that makes me laugh out loud, but then he adds,

“And I’d just rather my nan got her vaccine…”

And then others join in and there are some incredibly sad tales of the misery that covid has brought into their lives over recent months. What is humbling however it that, for this room of teenagers, their only vaccine concerns are for others and usually family members.

When I get home, with my pupils’ voices still ringing in my head, I find my vaccine letter on the mat and it brings a family problem I have sharply into focus. Someone on my household needs this vaccine far more than I do. One of my children is a severe asthmatic, ticking all the JCVI boxes for a higher category than me. Our GP practice have informed me of this but have not, despite me checking several times this month, been able to organise an actual vaccination date. There is always some vagueness about time frames or some new reason why her invitation is yet to appear and it has been incredibly frustrating. Re-inspired by my pupils, however, I push my letter aside and, once again call the GP. They respond 2 days later and this time the news is more positive

She should definitely be hearing this week!” they assure me

And, even though they have let us down so many times before, I foolishly believe them. With hindsight, it has been such a long struggle that I think I am just too desperate for it to be over. With my lovely girl finally ‘in the line’, I feel able to book my own appointment with a clear conscience.

Alas, by Friday, we have heard nothing and I have to call again.

Our supplies are a little low. We are expecting more next week. So can you call back then?”

Do I call them? Do they call me? They seem unclear and, dare I suggest, unconcerned, about which way it is organised and I realise that, as is so often the case with an asthmatic child, it will be down to me to make anything happen here. With a jolt of maternal guilt, I wonder whether because, unlike the majority of the population, I do not work from home and am ‘on duty’ between 8am and 915am every day, that others just call and grab any available appointments. Her dad has tried on occasion, but life hasn’t taught him the need to be quite as relentless as me . I add ‘call GP’ to my gargantuan list of jobs for Monday and realise, with a heavy heart that I have failed and will in fact be getting this jab before the only person in our house who needs it.

So how do I feel this evening? I know that I should feel ‘proud‘ and ‘grateful‘ and ‘full of hope‘, because the countless selfies and social media posts, tell me this is the expected reaction. But I am afraid that I feel none of this. I feel embarrassed and downright ashamed to have leaped ahead of my own child, my vulnerable child, in this vaccine queue. A tad over-dramatic I’ll concede but, what kind of mother pushes her own child off the lifeboat to clamber aboard in their place? Tonight I feel like a parental disappointment and my vaccine, for someone the world has happily sent unprotected into a covid-hot spot of a high school for most of this pandemic, seems a pointless price to have paid…