‘Forget the Westminster side show – focus on real heroes of the pandemic’

Specialist nurse Lisa Fontes - just one of thousands who have been at the frontline of the pandemic

Specialist nurse Lisa Fontes - just one of thousands who have been at the frontline of the pandemic. Right, Dominic Cummings giving evidence at the joint select committee. - Credit: PA

In a marathon session in front of a joint meeting of three House of Commons select committees, Dominic Cummings unrolled a charge sheet of incompetence at the heart of the government, writes Angus Williams.

The prime minister’s former chief adviser painted a picture of chaos in Number 10, with government ministers discussing Covid-19 as if it were chickenpox until long after they had seen other countries in the grips of lockdowns. 

In Mr Cummings’ telling, Boris Johnson dithered and delayed over enforcing lockdowns – even repeatedly ignoring scientists’ advice on an autumn lockdown. 

When asked by MP Sarah Owen whether Boris Johnson was a “fit and proper person to get us through this pandemic”, Mr Cummings simply replied: “No.” 

But he saved perhaps his harshest criticism for the health secretary, and West Suffolk MP, Matt Hancock. 


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According to the former adviser, Mr Hancock “should have been fired for at least 15 to 20 things”. 

This dirty laundry list of alleged ineptitude included lying about testing people for coronavirus before they were discharged from hospital back into care homes and holding back Covid tests in order to meet his own promise of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April. 

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It should be noted that a spokesman for Mr Hancock said they “absolutely reject” Mr Cummings’ claims about the health secretary. 

Whatever the validity or otherwise of the criticisms, the institution that Mr Hancock oversees has outdone itself in response to the pandemic. 

Throughout the pandemic heroic nurses and doctors have worked to save lives – both in the Covid-19 wards that we have seen in harrowing reports on the evening news, but also in the normal run-of-the-mill wards and clinics. 

They have struggled with soaring patient numbers, lack of PPE and, probably most of all, exhaustion. 

In Suffolk, nurses have told how the constant strain on their physical and mental health has caused everything from dermatitis to anxiety and sleepless nights.  

While a Norfolk-based nurse told how it felt like they were “fighting every shift” in January.  

She continued: “We didn’t stop when lockdown finished, we didn’t stop over the summer. We kept going and we kept fighting on and now we are doing it even more.” 

But alongside these clinicians have been administrators, receptionists, IT people and everyone else needed to make the behemoth that is the NHS run smoothly. 

Practically overnight they have reorganised hospitals, Covid-proofed doctor’s surgeries and run the practicalities of one of the world’s most effective vaccine rollouts. 

And how have some repaid them? Abuse.  

A recent survey by the Institute for General Practice Management (IGPM) found that 75pc of GP practice staff experience abuse daily, with most of them saying it was largely a “combination of threatening behaviour, racist abuse, and sexist abuse”. 

Of the 571 respondents, two thirds said they had needed to call the police as a result of the abuse and that in one case staff from the surgery even had their tyres slashed. 

The vast majority of that abuse will not be directed at doctors or nurses, but instead at the receptionists or dispensers who are people’s first port of call when they are ill. 

The IGPM is campaigning for a zero-tolerance approach to abuse, under the banner of “if I die, it will be your fault” – after an abusive remark commonly levelled at staff in GP surgeries. 

In a survey of 591 hospital doctors, 24pc had also received abuse from patients during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

These figures are sadly not as shocking as they should be in a world in which everyone wants everything done yesterday.  

But for more than a year the NHS has been pushed to breaking point and, while it has bent, it has not broken.  

So, while Mr Cummings, Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock supposedly dithering and dallying in Westminster has made every front page in the land this week, let’s not forget those people all across the country who have rolled their sleeves up and got to work to get us through the pandemic – and let’s treat them with the respect they deserve.

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