Clapping the NHS is an empty gesture if we don’t back parties that support our health workers

Image by Pavel Sternberg from Pixabay.

Dylan Llyr

Mae modd darllen yr erthygl yma yn Gymraeg yma.

The lockdown due to to the coronavirus pandemic is a difficult time, and it’s natural to feel helpless. The only thing most of us can do to help in the battle against COVID-19 is to stay at home, and give our best wishes to the NHS staff on the front lines. There is a sincere desire to demonstrate this appreciation publicly, which is what many people do at 8 o’clock on Thursday evenings by going out to their front doorsteps to clap and cheer.

I tend to feel awkward about this sort of mass ritual (and this is perhaps one reason that religion never appealed to me). Despite the good intentions behind it, an element of social enforcement tends to develop: if you don’t take part, you must hate nurses. An element of performance often takes over quite quickly too, as the clapping becomes bashing saucepans, then fireworks, and even sky lanterns (which are dreadful things that should be banned outright), turning the whole thing into a competition to see who cares about health workers the most.

In case anyone thinks I’m being unkind and miserable, this is not to say that people shouldn’t clap. It should be noted that many health workers genuinely appreciate the display, and anything that lifts their spirits at the moment is a good thing. It’s also true that an opportunity for the public to come together to convey a positive message is beneficial, and offers a brief escape from the lonely monotony of self-isolation. People are longing for something to celebrate. But it’s surreal to see people breaking the guidelines about social distancing in order to take part.

The scenes from Westminster Bridge in central London last Thursday were incredible, especially as it was the police themselves that instigated the spectacle by gathering on the bridge in their vehicles to blare their sirens and lights. Some police officers have had too much of a taste for their new powers, and there are many examples where they have been too zealous in their policing of people exercising or shopping, but this was the other extreme.

In the name of applauding NHS staff who are risking their lives treating COVID-19 patients, the police created a scene that was bound to attract a large crowd, thereby almost surely further spreading the very virus responsible for this nightmare in the first place. It’s a mixed message to say the least. The intentions may have been good, but this clearly needs to stop immediately.

The bigger problem is that “supporting health workers” is too vague and general a message. Is there anyone anywhere willing to admit that they don’t appreciate the work of NHS staff? Even those politicians itching to privatise as much of the service as possible claim to cherish it, even though the whole point of a National Health Service should be that it is maintained by the state.

There is one obvious thing that people can do to help the NHS in a meaningful way, which is to refuse to support political parties that fail to fund it adequately and who insist on introducing more and more market forces into its administration.

 

Defiance

Unfortunately, many (a majority, even, according to some recent opinion polls) fail to do this one practical thing to protect the NHS. Sadly, this makes me fear that the clapping is a symbol that means everything to everyone, which is a different way of saying that it doesn’t, in fact, mean much at all. It reminds me of the empty words about “thoughts and prayers” mumbled by too many American politicians after mass shooting cases, which aren’t followed by any meaningful action.

Similarly, the story about the 99-year-old man who raised millions for the NHS by walking in his garden shouldn’t inspire us. The man’s achievement is obviously good and remarkable, but it is nonetheless a heartbreaking and dreadful indictment, because it is disgraceful that a National Health Service should need such charity.

Symbols or rituals that are too vague can be dangerous, because, despite the sincere initial intentions, they can quickly become quite jingoistic affairs, as we’ve seen with the poppy. Indeed, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this new clapping custom getting absorbed into the annual Remembrance Sunday traditions. It’s easy to imagine attempts to introduce a clap for the police and royal family too. After all, we’ve already seen it done for the Prime Minister when he was in intensive care himself with the coronavirus.

There is something quasi-religious about mass symbols and rituals like these. In the case of the crowd on Westminster Bridge, it’s almost as though they believed that the symbolic nature of the event for which they had gathered actually gave them temporary immunity from the disease. Perhaps they considered it a show of defiance to the virus. Of course, psychological tactics don’t work against inanimate blobs of tiny molecules, which is why Donald Trump’s blustery declarations that the pandemic was a hoax didn’t, in fact, prevent it. PR, political rhetoric and ‘shows of force’ are useless against natural phenomena.

As someone who spent a fortnight in hospital some months ago, I can attest that NHS staff do incredible work and deserve all praise. But we must remember what supporting them means in a practical sense, and we should not let politicians take advantage of this new tradition in order to appear more supportive than they truly are.

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Sue jones davies
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Sue jones davies

Cytuno yn llwyr

Plain citizen
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Plain citizen

Why can’t we learn from other healthcare systems? The German system seems much more successful, not only at testing and sourcing PPE, while one state in India ( Kerala) has outperformed most of the rest of the world in testing, tracing and treatment. Kerala has a communist government (possibly in name only) but a largely private healthcare system (like the German system) with many providers, not just a few behemoths. It has been observed that in England, Public Health England tried to centralise all testing (into just one lab) and procurement and of course failed. Perhaps it’s over centralisation which… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

France and England have colonial centralisation. Germany has the Lander (and localised taxation.)

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

Yes, I think the German model is worth following but it will never happen with the Tories in power.

Anthony Davis
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Anthony Davis

Completely agree with this. When my neighbour said to me “I didn’t see you out clapping last night” I told him that a more effective way of supporting the NHS was by not viting for a party that had consistently under funded and asset stripped, hus reply? “I take it you didn’t vote Tory then?”

j humphrys
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j humphrys

btw Martin Bachman (prof University of Berne) said yesterday that a vacine should be ready towards end of October, and will
probably be ready for world disribution March. The provider looks like being Novartis. I noticed on Hancock’s alf ‘our yesterday
a similar schedule being eased into his press conference?

Mary Roll
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Mary Roll

my feelings exactly. I have also thought the clapping ritual was some sort of replacement for the old days when people went all together to church to pray to be helped against forces beyond their control. The new God is the NHS, as no other deity is in a position to do anything about Nature fighting back against the sins of humankind. I also feel very uncomfortable about the poor old man walking around his garden. It’s a disgrace that he should feel it necessary.

Huw Davies
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Huw Davies

Clapping is a lazy gesture, the sort of thing fascist states enjoy imposing on their peoples.

Steve Duggan
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Steve Duggan

Ultimately we only have our selves to blame for the state of the NHS, even if we are stuck with the FPTP system ( yes, I know health in Wales is devolved but it can only use the money given to it be Westminster). Once the clapping is finished let’s kick the Tories out for a generation – better still let’s gain independence and kick them out for go !

Jonesy
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Jonesy

And 100s of the useerss managers in the NHS