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Dear NHS: Support our healthcare workers as they approach their toughest challenge yet

Tower Bridge lit up in support of the NHS (Twitter: @sixcylinders)

I grew up around hospitals. More specifically I grew up around Pilgrim Hospital, Lincolnshire. In my living memory, I have never lived more than a ten-minute drive away. I was born there. I have been a patient there. I have visited family members who were patients there. I got the school bus from there. I waited for my dad to finish work there. For a few summers, I even worked there myself. My parents uprooted their entire lives to move near the hospital. They took the two-hour drive from Sheffield (where they met whilst working in the same hospital) to a place neither of them had ever visited, or in my mum’s case, even heard of before. This is just a fragment of insight into the dedication of the doctors and nurses who are employed by the NHS. The centrality of Pilgrim Hospital to my upbringing is not a unique story. There are roughly 1.5 million people employed by the NHS across the country. It is the fifth biggest employer in the world. Therefore, it is highly likely that you, reader, will know someone who works or has worked for the organisation in the past.

This workforce deals with over 1 million patients every 36 hours, a number that is undoubtedly about to witness a rapid increase. From this overwhelming number, you can quickly begin to infer the wide variety of people that cross the threshold of NHS hospitals every day. People from all walks of life work, visit and rely upon these institutions. As the late Deborah Orr stated, ‘All human life is there, and that’s a wonderful thing.’ The NHS is a testament to the power of different people working together, a topos of tolerance and cosmopolitanism, all under a sterile white roof (or greyish-blue in the case of Pilgrim, it’s really ugly- Google it). Orr also observed that ‘the most strident proponent of anti-immigration rhetoric would find it hard to survive a couple of days in an acute ward at a major teaching hospital-or any other ward at a teaching hospital, really.’ I believe this could not be more true.

I am lucky that most of my visits to the hospital have been as a guest or an employee. This has perhaps resulted in a narrow perception of hospital life, seen constantly from the side of the people who work there rather than those who visit. From a young age, I have been acutely aware of the language and expectations thrown at the people who work for the NHS. Doctors often come under fire for their professional detachment. Receptionists are screamed at for waiting hours and nurses are repeatedly ignored and dismissed. Adam Kay’s recent publication This is Going to Hurt brought the treatment and toil of young doctors to the attention of the public in a dramatic way, but I and the many other people who know people employed by the NHS were not at all surprised by the details of his book.

Now more than ever, as a nation we are acutely aware of the blessing that the NHS is for our country. We should be proud of it, we should be thankful for it, and we should respect it. As we approach challenging times in the upcoming weeks and months, let us all do what we can to alleviate the pressure it is about to come under by staying safe and aware of others. Wash your hands, stay at home and help others where you can. Support our healthcare workers as they approach their toughest challenge yet. Remember they are only people too.


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