Many NHS staff will have woken up this morning to the news that the Queen has awarded the George Cross to “all NHS staff, past and present, across all disciplines and all four nations”.
The announcement comes as UK Covid-19 cases escalate, hospitalisations are once again on the rise, and NHS staff brace themselves for the impact of a third wave of this pandemic. Impacts on their patients. Impacts on themselves. Impacts on their families. All of them have endured untold pressure, stress, trauma and grief for 16 months now. The pressure has not let up at all. Elective work which was delayed or cancelled has caused huge backlogs, and staff are working as hard as they can to meet demand, and care for patients safely.
I run an organisation called EveryDoctor; we’re doctor-led and we advocate for NHS staff and patients. We’ve been talking about the George Cross today within our online community. This award is an enormous honour – and well-deserved. It is hugely appreciated that the Queen wishes to mark NHS staff contributions in such a significant way. As an individual, I truly appreciate this recognition on behalf of the doctors I represent. I gave up my medical job to advocate for EveryDoctor members, and their dedication and sacrifices have been utterly remarkable over the past year.
At this significant moment, the UK government should reflect, urgently, on the value they place on NHS staff. The Queen has bestowed upon NHS staff the highest mark of recognition; and this should be appreciated in kind by the UK government by affording NHS staff the necessary workplace support to protect health care workers and patients as we tackle the next phase of the pandemic and beyond.
NHS staff are not well-supported by this government. Frontline staff have seen real-terms pay cuts for over a decade; many nurses have had pay cuts of 20 per cent, senior doctors of up to 30 per cent. We are now missing almost 84,000 NHS staff; as the NHS austerity cuts have mounted up and the pressures build, the NHS becomes a more and more stressful place to work. Staff leave; they move abroad where they are more valued; they change careers (often forced to abandon the vocation they love); they retire early. And as staff leave, conditions worsen for remaining staff and their patients. The waiting times are too long, and staff work harder and harder to plug gaps in funding. This was the situation before Covid-19 hit. It’s even worse now.
If we want a healthy NHS, a strong NHS, an NHS which truly cares for patients, then support and pay rises for staff, along with investment in patient services, must be at the very top of the agenda. If we want a future NHS, if the government wants this, then we need the government to demonstrate that they value the NHS highly, just as the Queen has demonstrated today.