I’m embarrassed every Thursday. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. The outpouring of love for NHS workers at 8 p.m. each week has been touching. Who wouldn’t want to be clapped and cheered? But quietly among ourselves, many of us in the health service have increasingly felt it’s misplaced. I’ve come to dread it. It makes me wince. The fact is that the NHS is currently letting down thousands upon thousands of patients. When the dust has settled, I fear that we will be responsible for the death or morbidity of countless people.
Since the pandemic hit, entire NHS services have completely stopped. I fear that this will have catastrophic consequences for the health of the nation. What’s more, as ill health is inexorably linked to poverty, it will affect the poorest the most. Many of us in the health service, as we look around at our near-empty hospitals and blocked-out diaries, are asking if we have gone too far. Has the fear of the pandemic meant that we have overreacted? Could we have caused more harm than good with our attempts to prepare for the influx of Covid patients?
I work in mental health and it is well known that many community mental health teams have effectively shut up shop, which condemns patients with severe enduring mental illnesses to spiral into psychosis, mania or suicidal depression. Surgical operations have been cancelled. A friend with a tumour growing in his jaw has sat at home for the entire lockdown waiting until this madness ends with no idea when he can have the operation he was supposed to have two months ago. The departments that are still running offer a skeleton service which struggles to provide any real, meaningful care.
It’s not something that people feel able to talk about publicly, but many of us are quietly panicking about the inertia that has struck the NHS.