I am a therapeutic radiographer working in the UK. A year ago I had never heard of Covid-19, lockdown was something that happened in prisons, isolation was reserved for clinically vulnerable patients in hospital, PPE was donned only for certain procedures and social distancing was an as yet unknown phrase. The virus spreading on the other side of the world did not seem to be something to worry about.
Times change, however, and I am now more worried than I have been since the virus spread beyond China’s borders and slowly but steadily infected every nation on earth. Over the months we have been asked to adhere to guidelines, with new laws created to help enforce them, and our communities have been placed in restrictive tiers and under national lockdowns. We have seen the numbers on government charts fall, but now those numbers are rising rapidly and the NHS is struggling once again.
We have been here before of course, but first time round, Covid-19 was an unknown enemy and fear kept people at home when the government demanded it. The weekly doorstep applause across the nation was a rallying cry of support for the NHS and a display of our compliance to do what was necessary to keep it afloat. This time round though things feel very different. People are now used to living alongside Covid-19, they know how to bend the rules and adherence to government instruction now seems viewed by many as an option rather than a legal obligation. This, coupled with a much more virulent strain of the virus, means that the NHS, historically a glorious, resilient beast, may actually be close to breaking point.
The far-reaching implications if we get to that unthinkable point do not bear considering. Resources are already stretched and are once again being diverted to cope with the significant increase in Covid-19 patients presenting at our hospitals. Staff are being redeployed to help where they are needed most. This time round some of my fellow radiographers are being asked to leave their radiotherapy posts for a few weeks to help our overstretched colleagues on the Covid-19 frontline. And despite tireless campaigning over recent months to highlight the importance of keeping cancer services going through the pandemic, there is now the very real prospect that more treatments will be cancelled, postponed, or shortened to free up even more resources to help battle Covid-19 and to protect vulnerable cancer patients from the risk of catching the virus. Cancer patients are dying already as an indirect result of Covid-19 and we know that tragically there will be more deaths to come.
So, to all those people not abiding by the rules or, even worse, calling the pandemic a hoax, please look beyond your own selfishness and denial. The statistics presented to you in the media are not just numbers, they represent real people fighting for or, even worse, losing their lives. Covid-19 is real and to say otherwise is offensive. It is an insult to every person on a ventilator in ITU, to every family grieving the loss of a loved one, to every exhausted healthcare worker giving his or her all to save lives and keep the NHS functioning under extreme pressure, to every cancer patient whose outcomes have been negatively impacted by changes to a treatment plan and to every person who has made countless sacrifices to help stop the spread of this virus.
Like everyone else, I long for the day when life can return to normal. I would love to be able to wear a uniform that does not include a mandatory face mask, goggles, apron and gloves. I yearn to be able to sit face to face with my patients and give them the time to talk. I do not want my patients to have to leave their support networks at home, or in a carpark, and attend for treatment alone. I want to be able to see the smiles, sadness, fears and worries on their faces. And I want to hear about what they have been up to, where they have been and what plans they have made for the future. This day will come, but getting there will continue to take time and patience. The arrival of not one but three vaccines offers realistic hope that the end is in sight, but we are not there yet, and this is not the time for complacency. It is the time for a stronger resolve than ever before. So once again, I echo the government and offer a radiographer’s plea – Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save lives!