‘We’ve seen very sadly four doctors die so far, and some nurses.’ Health Secretary Matt Hancock, BBC1 Question Time April 2, 2020
Some nurses have died. We are in the grip of a pandemic, and Britain is under house arrest. Some us accept it stoically, some of us grumpily, and some not at all. The police break up barbecues among the proles, while the better-off more discreetly slink off to holiday homes in Cornwall. They do what they want and leave others to pick up the pieces. Life goes on, sort of.
But some nurses have died. How many? If the Health Secretary didn’t know a fortnight ago, it is unlikely now. The official figure I heard him give this morning was that 27 NHS staff have died since the start of this wretched pandemic. Others say 56. Still every day, the press conferences happen. Smart well-spoken ministers on first name terms with the journalists interrogating them trot out reassuring well-rounded figures about the amount of PPE going to the front line, the testing that is imminently going to happen. Individual nurses tweet photos of bare supply cupboards or empty boxes; or exhausted to the point of tears call radio phone-ins, lone voices against armies of statistics. Lions led by donkeys with spreadsheets. And then they get out of bed, go into work and do it all again: not knowing whether they have sufficient protective equipment that day; not knowing when testing will arrive; forced to play Russian roulette with two revolvers at once.
Some nurses have died. They have names, faces, people who loved them. I’m haunted by Areema with the Hollywood smile her three kids will never see again; Mary whose newborn baby daughter will never meet her; Elsie who worked in the care home off the official radar of statistics. Good lives, well-lived, cut pointlessly short.
Some nurses have died, but please not in vain. Change must come, and stay when those rounds of applause come to an end. A brief moment of fashionable adulation is no substitute for lasting and properly earned respect. Ministers take note: these people, and this profession truly counts.