Poet and former children’s laureate Michael Rosen has marched with striking nurses from the University College Hospital in north-west London to Downing Street out of “pure gratitude” for them saving his life.
Speaking outside Downing Street, the 76-year-old said he was put in an induced coma and stayed in hospital for three months after falling ill with Covid in March 2020.
“Nurses like people today looked after me, saved my life several times,” he told the PA news agency.
“My blood pressure was diving down. I got secondary infection. They were looking after me and wrote a wonderful patient diary.
“So I’m unbelievably grateful.”
Rosen said nurses were “saving people all around” him despite the “great strain” on them.
Asked about the strain he saw, he said: “Intensive care wards, you’re supposed to have one nurse to one patient. My ward, it was equipped for 11 beds and… at various points there was 24 beds, one nurse for two or three beds and it was terrible because 42% of us died.
“They could only carry on working with volunteers and recruits from other parts of the National Health Service.
“It meant strain for them to have people dying in front of you at that rate and also eight or nine-hour shifts, rushing between beds all wrapped up in PPE and so on, and at the end of those shifts writing me a patient diary telling me what I was going through.”
Rosen described nurses’ work as “incredible” and said it is “horrific” some are using food banks.
“If you’re fighting in order to maintain your standard of living it undermines the care you can give. That’s what they’re telling us,” he said.
“They need more pay. They need it urgently – prices rising at a frightening rate, they can’t meet their bills.
“I mean, what a thought. People are saving our lives and then going off and getting baked beans from food banks.”
Asked what he hopes nurses will achieve by striking, Rosen said he wants them to “get what they’re asking for” and for pay, recruitment and retention to improve.
Rosen gave a speech after the march reached Downing Street.
Addressing the crowd, he said: “You looked after me. You actually sang to me, held my hand, stood around my bed on my birthday… and sang me Happy Birthday.
“You told me to fight on.”
He added: “I know the kind of care that you gave me… kept me alive.”
Rosen said the NHS has looked after him all his life – treating a long-term illness and bringing his children into the world.