Working on the frontline during a pandemic is exhausting (Picture: Ken McKay/ITV/REX)
When actor Laurence Fox tweeted about inviting a ‘large group over to lunch’ and hugging them all during a pandemic, I was frustrated and disappointed.
Not because I don’t like hugs over lunch, but because it’s irresponsible, ignorant, privileged and could dangerously incite others to behave the same way.
As a doctor working in intensive care during the pandemic, Fox’s words stung twice. First, for brazenly admitting to breaking lockdown rules but also criticising the NHS as being ‘not fit for purpose’.
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While it’s true that the NHS is understaffed and underfunded, we’re trying our best to keep everyone safe and it’s disheartening to see someone blatantly disregarding the work we’re doing.
Working on the frontline during a pandemic is exhausting. My colleagues and I are run-down and overtired – and we’re suffering for it, both physically and mentally.
During the beginning of the first wave, I remember calling a relative of a patient to tell them their mother was losing their battle with the disease. The last time she’d seen her mother was when the ambulance came, and the last time they spoke was on the phone before she was placed on a ventilator.
I was devastated when I explained that she wouldn’t be able to come and see her mother in her last moments. I just can’t explain how sick I felt saying those words.
Despite how unjust that would have felt to hear, the patient’s daughter appreciated that she was protecting herself and others. She just got it. How can someone like her be so understanding, and yet Laurence Fox be so callous?
Seeing him smugly talking about hugging and meeting people as if social distancing rules aren’t in place feels like a slap in the face for all of our hard work. If not simply because it shows a complete ignorance to how the virus is spreading, but because it shows no solidarity in trying to stop the spread of it.
It’s an incredibly human thing to want to be able to meet our friends and family right now. But to weaponise this and show that he’s willing to do it at the expense of others, he’s belittling the sacrifice that every single one of us is having to make right now.
We know that lockdowns help reduce the spread of coronavirus. We also know that they cause a ‘profound negative impact’ by bringing social and economic life ‘to a near stop’, according to the World Health Organisation.
But the worst thing you can do is willfully spread the virus by ignoring social distancing rules. Hugging your friends while at lunch could very well set back the progress we’re making and force us into yet another lockdown.
To say that the NHS isn’t good enough so we should just let it suffer is completely unfair
As for Fox’s views on the NHS, they are truly baffling. He seems to believe that the health service is some sort of monolith, rather than a collection of people trying to do their jobs with the resources they have.
Nothing epitomises this more than his follow-up tweet rejecting the NHS as his ‘church and salvation’. When he argues that the service doesn’t ‘need protecting’, his ‘elderly relatives do’, what does Fox think we’re trying to do?
He’s probably right that the NHS wasn’t necessarily ready to deal with this pandemic but that’s a political issue rather than something to do with the healthcare service itself.
In fact, the latest Commonwealth Fund report ranked the UK as the world’s best healthcare system – for the third time in a row. So I don’t really know what Fox is talking about when he said the NHS is ‘not fit for purpose’.
If he’s saying our approach to managing the pandemic isn’t adequate – like more stringent testing and closing borders to reduce the spread, as in places such as New Zealand – that’s on the politicians in charge.
If it’s about test and trace, that’s also on the Government after it handed the majority of the contracts over to private companies.
To say that the NHS isn’t good enough, so we should just let it suffer, is completely unfair. I want to hope that this is not a popular opinion and that many of his followers don’t echo the same sentiment.
Seeing that people feel this way is demoralising as someone working on the frontline of this pandemic.
We’re real people and we want to see our loved ones, just like everybody else. We have the added experience of going into work and seeing first-hand how people are suffering.
I would say to Laurence Fox and the people who share his opinion that fortunately for you, we’re here to treat and look after you whether you like us or not. No one’s looking to be anyone’s saviour, but we’re trained to look after people and that’s what we’ll continue to do – even when the pandemic is over.
I just hope that he or the people who feel emboldened by his comments don’t learn this lesson the hard way.