As a mental health nurse and a local councillor, I’m probably more able than most to have a good overall view of how covid and lockdowns have affected us over the last 20 months or so.
The obvious one is not having been able to see family and friends for so long. This inevitably led to a lot of isolation and an increase in depression right across the age spectrum.
The pandemic also led a surge in anxiety-related disorders, again right across the age spectrum, with children affected as their school lives and friendships became inaccessible.
Less obvious, however, was the challenge that covid and keeping people safe from the virus posed for my nursing, and other, colleagues in mental health services.
In terms of in-patient work, staff have had to wear scrubs and face masks. So, imagine working on a ward where someone might be admitted in acute psychosis and the skill and challenge involved in keeping the person calm and safe when they are faced by nursing staff wearing masks.
Even more difficult, think of my own field of work, dementia services, and how difficult it is for nursing staff to look after someone who might be extremely confused and frightened while wearing a mask which makes verbal communication almost impossible at times.
I pay tribute to all my colleagues who work on in-patient wards for the manner in which they carried themselves and the dedication and commitment they showed in keeping services going.
What really worries me now, however, is that people think that covid is over and we can carry on our lives as normal.
This is understandable, given what we’ve been through, but in my view is extremely premature.
People are still catching covid, even those who have been double jabbed. I count myself in this group.
And I was contacted by a resident recently who had been hospitalised with covid and he was treble jabbed.
So, we may well unknowingly slip into a situation where there is still a steady admission of people into hospital suffering from covid.
Indeed, this is happening currently and is placing an extra demand on the NHS at a time when, due to the onset of a potentially tricky and testing winter, it can least cope with it.
The knock-on effect of this may be even more cancellations of vital surgery for cancer patients and people needing heart surgery in terms of access to intensive care beds.
We saw this earlier in the year and last year and I was personally involved, as a councillor, with residents who needed urgent operations which kept getting postponed.
All this is happening against an international backdrop of other European countries seeing a rise in covid cases and other countries outside Europe, ie, Russia, seeing catastrophic numbers of covid cases and covid-related deaths.
In this country it’s difficult to predict how things will develop but there seems a hidden agenda on the part of the government to let so-called “herd immunity” develop.
This is extremely reckless. Susan Michie, a professor of health psychology at University College London and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), put it really succinctly recently when talking about the herd immunity approach.
She said: “Allowing covid transmissions to continue at a high level risks more unnecessary deaths, hospitalisations and cases of long covid.
“It also increases the risk of our vaccination programme being dangerously undermined by increasing the risk of variants emerging.”
She also spoke of the things that we can do to limit the risk to others and the possible damage to ourselves.
The simple measures she outlined to decrease and minimise danger were
- Wear masks in indoor public spaces
- Introduce, improve and enhance ventilation or air-filtration
- Step up the booster programme and vaccination for children
- Allowing working from home or a “hybrid” model of home and workplace
These are, of course, the elements of the “Plan B” that Boris Johnson’s government refuse to introduce.
This is foolish in the extreme and reminds me of early last year where we were still allowing flights into the country from all over the world, even from countries where covid had already taken a firm hold.
What is also worrying me at the moment are the small groups of anti-vaxxers who feel that it’s ok to demonstrate outside schools, shouting at school children, some very young, and threaten head teachers with serious legal action.
The last point is a nonsense, of course, but I saw one instance where an anti-vaxxer gained entry to a school and directly confronted the head teacher who was clearly shaken at such a brazen and aggressive intrusion into the school.
Their actions also raise safeguarding issues as some of these school children will be vulnerable and have mental health problems which will only be exacerbated by idiots shouting at them.
I thought that Hove MP Peter Kyle’s idea of exclusion zones was a good one and this should be implemented if legally possible.
Finally, I would like to honour the “hidden” heroes of the pandemic – the shop workers (in my own local Co-op, they’re fantastic), the council staff such as refuse collectors and traffic wardens, bus drivers and all other public-facing workers who carried on regardless and sometimes paid the ultimate price.
Councillor Peter Atkinson is a nurse and an independent councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council.