I'm An NHS Doctor. Boris Johnson's Christmas Plans Are Deadly

After seeing such tragedy, the idea we should relax Covid rules for one day is a difficult pill to swallow, writes Dr Richard Gilpin.

I’m an NHS doctor specialising in the care of older people. A year ago, before the arrival of this pandemic changed every aspect of our clinical care, it would not have been unusual to arrive on the hospital ward to hear that a patient had died over the weekend.

Going into work last Monday, we were greeted by the ward clerk waiting with a pile of death certificates from the weekend. A pile.

For our local population, the level of harm done by this virus has been immeasurable. It has not been uncommon to be treating numerous members of the same family, coming in one after another or sometimes as a unit.

One elderly couple shared a hospital room in their last days of life, holding hands between the bed rails before one and then the other died. Spread of Covid-19 among family members is common, and deadly.

“Relaxing measures appears foolhardy and risks an explosion of cases when we are on the cusp of a mass vaccine roll-out.”

After seeing such tragedy, the suggestion of relaxing Covid rules for Christmas is a difficult pill to swallow.

Typically, winter is the most brutal time of year for the NHS. Social care can be patchy or non-existent, families who provide care are often away and the cold weather exacerbates the medical condition of our patients with lung and heart disease.

One of our local hospitals recorded their busiest ever day on January 2 – eight days after Christmas. Obviously, any relaxation of the rules that might allow infection rates to bloom over Christmas would spell disaster.

Christmas is typically a difficult time for many staff members who are missing time with their loved ones. What gets us through is usually the boost in spirits from being together and knowing we are all doing our best under the circumstances.

With low morale, high staff sickness rates and many clinicians facing burnout, this year feels like it will be difficult one. The NHS relies on the goodwill of staff.

In a system with an exhausted workforce, having to cope with a spike in Covid-19 infections, that goodwill will vanish and the patients who need us at this time will suffer.

In times of adversity, necessity dictates the need for rationality over sentiment. NHS staff are in desperate need of a scientific approach to the management of this pandemic. Announcing Christmas-specific measures, although understandably well meaning, can only be detrimental for the health service.

Many of those staff members who will be dealing with the consequences of a relaxation would have been working over the Christmas period and unable to see their loved ones anyway.

Other festival celebrations have been curtailed in the name of Covid protection – very notably the restriction on gatherings that was communicated three hours before Eid earlier in the year. In light of Public Health England reporting that racism may have exacerbated disproportionate BAME deaths, it feels culturally insensitive that special rules for Christmas are made when this consideration was not forthcoming for the festivities of other faiths.

Relaxing measures appears foolhardy and risks an explosion of cases when we are on the cusp of a mass vaccine roll-out.

With a large and loud family, loving in-laws, and friends across the country, I feel the pain at not being able to catch up and be together over Christmas, but it feels like we have come so far and suffered so much to cause unnecessary harm in the name of seeing loved ones on this special day.

So I have a suggestion – why not postpone Christmas this year? Arrange a day once we have a working vaccine and infection rates are under control to ensure that there are fewer empty chairs at Christmas dinner in 2021.

Dr Richard Gilpin is a junior doctor who specialises in the care of older people. He is on the editorial team for Doctors’ Association UK, a professional organisation for UK doctors.


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