The air we breathe isn’t the same – a coronavirus story from East London

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Compassion is a teardrop of humanity that enters your home, when NHS paramedics are sent by a doctor from 111 on Day 7 of you having suspected coronavirus and pneumonia.

These paramedics selflessly measure your vital signs, with kindness in their tired eyes that peep through goggles they bought from a DIY shop. Wearing two paper masks, that probably have to last their shift, they are dressed in painfully little Personal Protection Equipment (PPE). Your partner looks on distraught, then calm descends upon your home like nectar from the gods – bringing both oxygen and relief.

This is Our NHS.

PR campaign

In Tower Hamlets – one of the poorest boroughs in London – our NHS paramedics were sent into homes of suspected coronavirus patients without adequate PPE and with limited resources amid a shortage of hospital beds. These paramedics were also told not to test for coronavirus in the community or given kits. In fact, they were not at that point even being tested themselves.

Some cases that we’d normally expect would have been admitted to hospitals, including mine, were not, so was this a resource issue? Daily briefings from cabinet members in the week of the 24 March diverted the public’s attention to a well engineered PR campaign, surrounding what was then the empty and unfinished Nightingale Hospital at London’s ExCel centre. However, at that time, there were reported critical bed shortages in London hospitals, which saw “operating theatres being turned into makeshift intensive care units”. It was also reported Northwick Park Hospital was forced to declare a “critical incident” when it ran out of critical care beds.

Dickens’ East London

Quietly in East London, the NHS cuts by this government and the systematic dismantling of the infrastructure of our community resources – over the last 10 years – has left its scars. Doctor’s appointments months prior to coronavirus were scarce, children starving and poverty rife. In this end of town we are used to having to put paper stitches on the cuts to our community and have been doing so for sometime. This is the East End and its Dickensian appeal is not romantic.

Our community’s heart, feelings and drive galvanised Mutual Aid Voluntary teams in this pandemic in a matter of hours. This ensured the vulnerable and East London’s children would continue to be fed during coronavirus. We have lawyers, media teams, shop assistants, nurses, doctors, artists, actors, writers, teachers, cooks, you name it we have it. Humble homes have now been turned into hubs; 3D printing machines make vital frontline PPE equipment; community groups source fabric and stitch the scrubs our NHS staff wear.

Jumping the queue

Meanwhile, Priti Patel is telling us at government daily briefings “I am sorry if people feel there have been failings”, and as a nation we are all being promised equipment that is not arriving, businesses are folding, and an EU ventilator scheme was not applied for. So what is this government doing?

The NHS has been battling a tide of systematic cuts and the government knew three years ago that it did not have the resources to cope with a pandemic. The NHS was brought to breaking point well before coronavirus entered this Green and Classist land – where it seems some feel important enough to jump the queue. Enter Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, other ministers and MPs who received Covid-19 tests for themselves or family members – and in some cases hospital care. This lack of equality is glaring. As for the ventilators we’ve all been promised, where are they? Have we a government which is only focused on resuscitating itself?

A precious commodity

Johnson was admitted to St Thomas’s in April with a high temperature and a cough – Covid-19. It was reported he was running the country from his hospital bed, he then deteriorated, luckily, while in hospital. Unlike me, who experienced Covid-19’s rapid deterioration at 3am on the balcony of a London Tower-block flat, which incidentally still has flammable cladding on it. There was no private transport taking me to hospital, my address isn’t No 10 Downing Street.

Oxygen is now a precious commodity and it seems that the elite do not breathe and sadly cannot feel the same air that our beautiful communities breathe.

Featured image is the author’s own

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  • Show Comments
    1. “Beware the risen people”. A quote from the Bobby Sands mural in Belfast. So glad you have recovered Nell. Sadly, we no longer have the leader (JC), to lead the “risen people”. I, unfortunately, will be relinquishing my labour party membership this next week due to the return to “Blairism” labour.

      Jeremy raised our hopes for a better future, but were sadly dashed by the “5th column” within the movement. I don’t know if I’m being a defeatist by resigning my membership, or following my moral
      position in opposing “Blairism” with all it’s ‘ left wing tory’ blasphemy’s.

      Anyway, good luck Nell and I wish you a speedy recovery. 🙂

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