The National Health Service. Seventy-two years old later this year, so, in theory, should be self-isolating at the moment – taking care of itself and keeping out of the way of COVID-19.
In reality, the NHS has risen to the challenge presented by the pandemic and we have seen a momentous call to arms never witnessed before. Those who had left the NHS due to retirement or moved on to pastures new are flooding back in to see what help they can offer at this challenging time. Already, legislation is making its way through Parliament to enable those who had recently left professional registers or those about to join to be mobilised to support practitioners who are overwhelmed or overworked.
We have heard mention of the ‘blitz spirit’ over the last few days, but this is so much more than ‘keep calm and carry on’. This is keep calm, but behave very differently. The NHS has been radically and dramatically reformed over recent years, and many of us may feel we are under-resourced for the current situation. However, what lies at the heart of the response we are seeing now is the compassion and courage of our healthcare workforce and the country as a whole.
Staff are completely reorganising the way they work; they are being redeployed to provide support where it is most needed, they are isolating themselves from their loved ones so that they can keep on working and, most importantly, they are caring for us and our families. In the midst of the dreadful stories and statistics, we are seeing a glimpse of the true heart of the NHS.
What do we have that binds our society together at the moment? We are anxious and trying to understand how the virus we can neither see nor smell can have such an enormous impact on our way of life. The last few weeks inside the NHS have seen change happening by the hour, as preparations have been made to deliver the best possible care.
Staff themselves have been ill or needed to self-isolate, unable to attend work. Guidance from the government saw the removal of other staff because they belonged to one of the identified vulnerable groups. Through all of this uncertainty, we have been constantly reminded of the amazing job the NHS is doing. We have seen individual and corporate acts of kindness towards our NHS staff – this is what truly binds our country together and gives us hope for the future.
NHS – the backbone of society
The NHS is at the hub of our lives. Each and every one of us needs its support from cradle to grave and perhaps we have previously taken this for granted? But if the NHS is at the hub, we need to consider all the organisations and individuals operating as the spokes. Who will offer that continuity of care once patients are discharged from hospital? Who is helping to keep people in their own homes to relieve the pressure on the system?
The wider health and social care system has sprung into action as never before, and we should remember that the workforce delivering care outside of the NHS is even larger than that within. Of course, we are also being reminded of the bigger network – those helping to deliver food to our tables or maintain a semblance of order in unsettled times. All have come together with a shared understanding of what needs to be done, often with little or no notice.
The recent call for NHS volunteers has given us all the opportunity to make a difference. The NHS has been overwhelmed by people offering support, and here at the University of Derby we are working incredibly hard to ensure that our students can continue to contribute to patient care as best they can. Some of our more senior students will be entered onto a professional register sooner than anticipated so that they can join the workforce as quickly as possible. Likewise, our staff are asking how they can best help; the majority of us spent many years working for the NHS and want to do whatever we can to support our colleagues and friends.
Once the crisis has passed, however long that may take, we will reflect on how the NHS rose to the challenge never seen before in our lifetimes. For some of us, that will be a very personal reflection about how we returned to the frontline, or supported our students to do so, offered the leadership and guidance sought by so many in a time of uncertainty or how we kept doing the day job so that others could care for family or communities.
I was very proud to work for the NHS and have maintained that working relationship for over 30 years in one way or another. But never, ever have I been as proud as this – for all that the NHS and its staff are doing, for the support the country is offering and to the difference we are able to make. Well done my friends, well done, and to the NHS – we salute you.