Our scary spring: What we must learn from the 2020 viral outbreak
Here I am in rural South East Wales preparing this paper. I live next door to the village church and I normally hear church bells and congregational singing on a Sunday…but no more. Sundays are silent now. Even our church doors are locked. This killer virus is affecting society in so many ways. We all are worried and know people that are ill or that have died from it, so we must learn from this experience for our future generations. In that spirit, I give my thoughts as follows:
- Service providers and individuals have stepped up to the plate – NHS staff at all levels, care staff in the community, in nursing and residential homes have all been amazing and simply got on with the job. However we must not underestimate the profound effect of this situation on staff wellbeing. Staff have had to retrain and in some cases relocate to new environments. Many have been supporting the very sick and dying in their last hours, and the impact of this must take its toll. So support from local networks as well as professional support and counselling will be required to deal with ongoing stress and mental health issues. These staff have been going into work daily not knowing if they (or their families) will be safe. They have shown total commitment and bravery. We must recognise this and reward it and we must treat social care professionals and carers the same as health staff.
- There has been underfunding in the NHS and cuts in Local Authorities for many years which has left us poorly equipped and on the back foot. There have been a need to significantly increase intensive care beds and ventilators and there has been chronic shortages of PPE for health and social care staff. When I was a teenager, the South Wales valleys were scattered with clothing factories; Polikoff, Berlei, and later Burberry. These business employed many people -mostly women- who were skilled seamstresses. They would have been able to turn out PPE at breakneck speed. Instead, these places are closed and we are now dependent on importing the things we most need from around the globe.
- We must be better prepared and plan. Whilst the likes of Bill Gates predicted this would happen and argued that we had to fund and plan for this, governments world-wide largely ignored the warning. Instead, we are now spending billions on supporting the economy and building hospitals on rugby pitches. We have spent money that we didn’t have on the things that matter- saving lives. We need to stockpile the equipment we need for the future. We have to be agile and flexible to prevent it from happening again and respond overnight if the risks become apparent.
- The WHO has a future role to ensure that countries take responsibility for containing infections and how they are reported. We must learn from each other as actions taken by some countries appear to have resulted in fewer deaths and better economic outcomes.
- Society and our citizens have been amazing. They have obeyed government instructions to keep safe, done extraordinary things to raise money. Some 405,000 people so far have signed up for volunteering. We must capitalise on this and harness this energy and commitment to support communities post the pandemic.
- Stop doing the stupid stuff. It’s surprising that we now have money that we never had, we are not counting things just to tick boxes. We must work differently, use the services that we have responsibly and radically change for the future.
- Let’s not go back to the ‘old normal’ and do the same role, as in many areas it wasn’t working. Let’s grab the possibilities that this awful crisis has forced. In particular, fully integrate health and social care, roll out at scale and pace new technology and take full advantage of the community capital which we have now energised.
- Ensure everyone has accesses to IT at home. This pandemic has required us to do things differently. We have been Zooming, Facetiming and Skyping. IT enables us to order food on line, exercise each day, learn a language- the opportunities are endless. However there are a number of our older generation who may need help and support to set this up so that they can have the full benefit. Not only will it enable them to access the world but it will also keep them in touch with families and friends and prevent loneliness and isolation. I think this is a priority for the future and maybe a charity- with the help of the volunteers mentioned above- could be funded to do this?
On a more personal note, the NHS is very precious to my family, as it is to the whole of the society. However it must be acknowledged that social care plays as an important role. All staff who work in the caring professions need to be recognised for their dedication, loyalty and commitment. I have recently been re-reading Nye’s book ‘In Place of Fear’ (due to be re-released in July in print and as an e book) and although written in 1952, much of its content still resonates today.
“Society becomes more wholesome, more serene, and spiritually healthier, if it knows its citizens have at the back of their consciousness the knowledge that not only themselves, but all their fellows, have access, when ill, to the best that medical skill can provide”.
Imagine for a moment what our world would now be like without the NHS and social care?
The silence has been recently broken by the bells being rung for the Thursday night ‘Clap for Our Carers’ initiative. It is so very lovely to hear. So to all the staff caring for sick and vulnerable people in hospitals and the community, to all those other services and key workers who are being amazing, stand up and take a bow- you deserve all the applause you are getting.
Written by Nygaire Bevan, Bevan Commissioner, with contributions from Mr Sukh Singh Dubb- OMFS, MBBS (Hons) BSc (Hons) MRCS BDS (Hons), Registrar in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery, Addenbrooks Hospital, Cambridge University Hospital.