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I wouldn’t normally use this column to write about something quite so political and yet not directly related to nursing.
But the Dominic Cummings affair has infuriated me, like many others – particularly those working in healthcare, that I can’t see past it right now.
In fact, incredulity at Mr Cummings’ behaviour and the government’s response seems to have unified the country in many ways – unlike much of his work on Brexit.
As the story of the special advisor’s drive to Durham unfolded, my social media feeds were taken over by an outpouring of scorn, anger and disbelief from nurses of all ages and levels of experience and seniority.
That initial shock was followed by bleakly comedic analysis of Mr Cummings’ reasons for making the trip and his subsequent behaviour, focusing on his now well-known excuses of finding childcare and testing his eyesight.
At least three trust chief executives joined in, according to my former colleagues at the Health Service Journal – practically unheard of among the normally politically circumspect NHS manager class.
What his actions and his subsequent refusal to even apologise, coupled with ongoing support of the prime minister and the cabinet, has broken the fragile pact between those in power and the public.
People had complied with the rules of lockdown because everyone else was. It was our moral duty to protect ourselves, our loved ones and our NHS. Single parents had coped with Covid-19 while remaining at home, often in cramped conditions without outside space; people had missed the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones; some were fined for actions similar to Mr Cummings’. Now they had seen that not everyone was subject to the rules.
Admittedly, other things were already fraying badly. The failures over PPE shortages and testing had undoubtedly resulted in health worker deaths and driven a wedge between ministers and those they were relying on so much to cope with the pandemic.
These factors were compounded by recent leaks suggesting a public sector pay freeze was on the way – a rather backhanded ‘thank you’ to those who continue to do so much for the country. Health secretary Matt Hancock – a man on the edge – didn’t help when, asked about the subject, he declared that nurses had already had a “very significant” pay rise.
This time last week, anger over Mr Hancock’s references to the Agenda for Change deal that had left them effectively worse off after three years was the driving force of nurse anger on social media.
But then on Friday came the news of the lockdown-breaking 260-mile trip to Durham by Dominic Cummings, which had occurred at the end of March – just as Covid-19 cases were marching to a peak.
“The whole ‘all in it together’ message that had seen society largely stick with lockdown and social distancing is at risk of being washed away”
Even if, as he claims, he hasn’t technically broken the rules – and let’s face it many of his arguments stack up worse than a well-advanced game of Jenga – he has certainly broken the spirit of them.
The whole ‘all in it together’ message that had seen society largely stick with lockdown and social distancing is at risk of being washed away by the actions of one person in an influential position.
The relatives of older people who have died in isolation from Covid-19, as well as those of sick children and others, want to know why they felt they were not permitted to visit, when apparently it was fine for someone like Mr Cummings.
And the revelations come at a time when people are starting to go out more as lockdown is relaxed but still need to comply with social distancing, use common sense and take sensible precautions.
If the actions of Mr Cummings and the support for him from the cabinet lead to many people to simply disregard all of this, then we could be accelerating towards the much-feared second wave.
That would be a travesty for the health and care services and all those who work in them. The government needs to show him the door now and try and regain some credibility and control over its public health message before it’s too late. Surely it is their civic duty?