It’s the unfairness of sacrifice that hurts the most. I don’t just say this as a nurse working with cancer patients, but as part of the overwhelming majority of people who have spent the last two years agonising, looking for answers about how to continue as normal and when to set aside everything held dear.
Last May while Boris Johnson partied in his garden after work, I worried if my patients would return from the restricted wards they had moved into after contracting COVID. They didn’t. I worried too about how to keep terminal cancer patients safe if they needed to come into hospital without their carers.
I worried about how to see my mum, who has Alzheimer’s, and who needed to be accompanied by a second person, my dad, at all times. Back in May, meeting two people outdoors was not allowed, nor was going into their house or forming a support bubble; so, we did what we needed, and stayed apart. The idea that parties in the garden of number 10 Downing Street were going on throughout all of this is disgusting.
Social care in the community had stopped. The day centre my mum attended was closed and the risks of social care visits were too high to contemplate. My youngest child’s nursery was closed and the one he attended was their fourth nursery in 3 years – remember the crisis with childcare funding, nurseries closing because of costs not met by the government’s austere payments for free hours? In May 2020, those seemed like halcyon days. My eldest son went to school in name only. He was given safety and company, along with the other children of key workers and those who were vulnerable; but formal education had frankly stopped.
I could neither make changes in my workplace nor in my parents’ garden. I could not re-open the operating theatres for cancer patients in severe pain, or reopen the day care centres for my mum, or the schools to more children. The sacrifices we all made were decided by our government, by Boris Johnson, and enforced by our police force, who stood outside 10 Downing Street. I willingly adhered to the rules out of love for the people around me. I accepted them, but I do not accept Boris Johnson made these decisions in good faith.
If Boris Johnson wants evidence of what happened in other people’s gardens in 2020, I can tell him that months after his garden festival season, I started visiting my parents’ garden alone, staying at a distance and sleeping in a campervan parked nearby. I did this not just because those were the rules at the time, but because the virus was running wild and vulnerable people like my parents and my patients were at the most risk of harm.
Do you remember those jokes, that it would be best to employ your loved ones as cleaners and define your home as a workplace?! Boris Johnson did precisely that, partying in his own garden/workplace- although he employed his friends in far more lucrative positions than as cleaners.
Our lockdown was long and severe because our government was slow to react. The prime minister who still often cannot be bothered to wear a mask in public and who did not care enough to attend early COBRA meetings, has spent the past two years drivelling about ‘personal choices’ as an excuse to do what he wants. There has been scant consideration for how choices which perpetuate the virus limit the personal choices of the most vulnerable people, those at the highest risk and those on the frontlines of this pandemic. Nor how ‘personal choices’ of those who stay home affect the businesses that rely on social activity. We now know that Boris Johnson never saw fit to limit socialising let alone understand how to work from home without racking up huge bills (often for taxpayers).
It’s easy for Johnson to try and pretend he’s Churchill, pretend to be a heroic leader because he does not rely on cancer treatments or social care. He is not at risk from isolation, cold weather, and shortages of health and social care. He does not benefit from the sacrifices of others; so he does what he pleases.
I should not be surprised that Boris Johnson struggles to do the right things for the country because we now know he cannot even do the right things in his back garden. The unfairness and lack of sacrifice at the top is crushing. At a time when we saw heroes and victims every day and wondered how to walk among them with our heads held high, I suppose 10 Downing Street did finally muster a small impression of Churchill- but in all the wrong ways. Boris Johnson flicked a V at the rules and all those who followed them.
Iain Wilson is a nurse in London and a member of Keep Our NHS Public