On 30 November Nicola Sturgeon announced that all health and social care staff in Scotland will be receiving a £500 pound bonus. The bonus is a ‘thank you’ from the Scottish government and the people of Scotland for all that health and social care staff have done during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister and the Secretary for Health in the UK Parliament have remained largely silent. They apparently briefly discussed the idea of a snack box but have decided on giving all health and social care staff a wee badge instead.
Working in a pandemic is not what most of us envisaged when we signed our employment contracts, but healthcare is our job and we knuckled down and got on with it. We have worked without appropriate PPE, with PPE guidelines seeming to change depending on what PPE was available, without reasonable staff testing protocols, without effective patient testing protocols. We have been made to send vulnerable patients positive with coronavirus to care homes where they have infected other residents with horrifying results, and we are being made to do so again. We have held the hands of patients as they died, separated from their loved ones, and we have watched as our colleagues died. We listened when the government tried to blame PPE shortages on us, and when they blamed us for helping to spread the virus, and when they blamed us for their care home disaster. And recently, the government have sought to use us to create division by pitting healthcare staff against the police, the fire service and other public sector workers with the announcement of the pay freeze.
So angered are NHS staff at the way we have been treated, that there is a massive and very vocal campaign for a pay increase currently running. It is not just about money though; as is frequently stated, no-one comes into health or social care expecting to be rich. But it is more than reasonable to demand that we are paid a wage that is commensurate with the work we do. We care for the most vulnerable in society during their worst times, and we care for their families and friends too. We are highly skilled. All of us. From the security staff who calm down threatening situations, to the catering and domestic teams who chat away to lonely patients, to the nurses who are constantly on watch for sudden changes indicating a deteriorating patient, to the healthcare assistants who do the most personal care for people who never imagined they would need that kind of help, and who are often the first to see those signs of deterioration, all with a smile on their faces. All these jobs are skilled; it is just that many do not perceive these as skills. A sizeable number of us are doing this for a wage that many would not bother to get out of bed for. Working in the NHS is both the best job in the world and the worst job in the world. It is hard and it is relentless, and it is becoming harder and harder to deliver good care. All of us are working in these difficult times and this terrible environment because we care, because we want to help and because we believe in the common good. What we do not need is to be patronised and the proposed badge is undoubtedly patronising.
It is inconceivable that into this rage and anger, the government is prepared to send us all a badge. A badge does not repay the many of us that caught Covid because of poor PPE and poor protocols. This does not help the many of us left with symptoms months after our initial infection. It does not repay the anguish felt by staff as patients died alone. It does not repay the debt owed by the government to ALL health and social care staff. And it certainly does not repay the lives of over 600 health and social care staff.
Obviously, I have not canvassed the opinions of all health and social care staff but comments from colleagues so far range from: “any chance it’s encrusted with jewels?” to “there are no words” to “it’s an insult after so many of us contracted Covid. Work has been, and still is, hard and scary. Many tears along the way. It’s a joke”.
Should I receive a badge, I shall be returning it. I feel certain that Matt Hancock will be receiving many badges by return post. Probably with detailed instructions on where he might wish to store them.
This article was written by Karen McDougall, Staff Nurse and member of Keep Our NHS Public's NHS Staff Voices group.