Why have we seen huge picket lines outside QEQM hospital for the last few days? And why did I join them?
The last time I was in hospital I hardly ate for a week – after effects of powerful anaesthetic kept me queasy and refusing food. The people I remember best weren’t doctors or nurses but the people like:
The nice girl who brought the food. She tried to tempt me to eat, made me jug of gravy when she saw the only thing I’d eaten was a bit of mashed potato and gravy.
The woman who came on the late shift and made me tea as soon as she arrived because she knew it was the only thing I was enjoying.
The Polish girl who cleaned round my bed every day, taught me bits of her language, practised her English and cheered me up no end.
The nice man who served the afternoon drinks and brought me lemon and ginger tea from home to help the queasiness.
All of them on the lowest rungs of the hospital hierarchy and all vital to the well being of the patients.
They all took the same risks as the medics during covid, struggling with inadequate protective clothing – PPE – and for much less pay than medical staff.
The NHS gave bonuses of up to 3000 pounds for staff who worked through covid. But in East Kent, these staff – cleaners, kitchen workers, porters etc, aren’t employed directly by the NHS. They’re employed by a private company owned by the NHS. So for some reason, they didn’t get the bonus!
Their union supported them going on strike to get what seems to everyone else to be their right to the same gratitude for covid work that the rest of the NHS workers had.
I spoke to many of them outside the hospital. I heard heart breaking stories. One had had covid four times and was left with scarring on her lungs.
I heard how horrible it was working in a steamy kitchen in full PPE, how worrying it was to go home to your family and have to keep them in a back room while you washed yourself and all your clothes every day to protect them from infection.
But worst of all was an experience many went through: opening the curtains round a bed to take tea for example, and finding the patient had died and there had been no time to take away the body or tell other staff what had happened.
All worth being rewarded with what is really a paltry bonus for two years of heavy risk taking.
But good news! Management have given in – the workers will get their bonuses. The strike worked!
Why do you do a low paid job for apparently callous and ungrateful management? I asked the lady with lung scarring. “I love the patients,” she said.
Well, here’s one grateful patient who loves her back!