Rhun ap Iorwerth, Plaid Cymru Senedd Member for Ynys Môn
Every Thursday evening throughout this pandemic people across the UK have been showing their gratitude for all our NHS and care workers. The appreciation shown by the public is clear, but after nine weeks of clapping for our carers, we have to ask ourselves – what has really changed for them?
As Wales grapples with the coronavirus crisis our health and social care workers are at the front line. They’re looking after our loved ones during the biggest public health disaster in our lifetime, and they’ve felt all too vulnerable. As they’ve faced demands most of us can’t comprehend, too many have faced difficulties in accessing testing, or the PPE they’ve needed to give them protection.
And feeling vulnerable isn’t abstract, but a reality. We can see from the statistics just how many health and care workers have tested positive. We know that too many have lost their lives. The Office for National Statistics recently shared the sobering fact that social care workers are at particular risk, with a care worker’s chance of dying from COVID-19 being “statistically significantly higher” than the general population.
Our health and care workers deserve more.
This crisis has highlighted so many of the problems that our NHS and care sector have faced for too long. Pressures on our NHS has been well publicised – a loss of beds in community settings; poor workforce planning and the resulting over-reliance on agency staff; undercapacity and delayed transfers piling pressure on A&E departments over winter, with British Red Cross volunteers drafted in last year to help. And the care sector suffers from lack parity with the health service on many levels..
Our carers deserve a government who will promise never to underfund, never to privatise, never again treat them in this way.
A Plaid Cymru government would deliver a national health and care service, more doctors, more nurses, more training. But what does this mean in practice?
In the short term, we must ensure that our carers have confidence in being fully equipped to protect themselves, and those in their care, against coronavirus. We must ensure that access to tests is readily available.
In the longer term, we must see an increase in the health and care workforce. Plaid Cymru has long advocated the need to train and recruit 1,000 additional doctors and 5,000 degree level health professionals including nurses, midwives and physiotherapists to help reduce workload and burnout.
Working conditions must be improved, by allowing more flexible working for those with families, ensuring protected training time, and reducing paperwork.
And social care workers must be placed onto NHS pay scales to ensure that social care becomes a more attractive career – respected and properly funded and remunerated.
Clapping shows our appreciation today, and it’s important to continue to do it. But looking to tomorrow, we as your elected representatives have a duty to go further than that. We must learn from what this crisis has taught us, and pledge to build health and care back better.