Covid Scotland: As we look to summer, let's not forget about our exhausted health workers - Elsa Maishman

Someone described the Jubilee bank holiday to me as a “party at the end of Covid”.

The UK - and even some in Scotland - probably would have pulled out all the stops anyway, but it did feel like a strongly post-Covid celebration. I enjoy eating ice-cream in the sun and being allowed to leave the house as much as the next person, but couldn’t shake off an odd poignancy about the brightly-coloured bunting and festival atmosphere.

Most of us have a lot to celebrate, now Covid is “over”. And there’s no reason not to throw a party after hopefully the biggest collective shock for several generations. My inbox is filling up with health tips for Scots going on holiday for the first time in three years this summer - without having to fear a 2am dash to the airport after their destination gets suddenly added to the UK travel red list.

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But it seems some people have forgotten the pandemic happened at all. True, it was a horrific time and many lost loved ones, financial stability or months of in-person education. And it would be better if the lasting impact on health services, mental health and education could be forgotten. But it’s a shame other memories seem to have so quickly faded: the images of exhausted nurses with deep imprints around their eyes from wearing PPE for an entire shift; the care home workers lauded for moving into their place of work to protect residents; the ritualistic clapping; and the rainbows strung up everywhere alongside messages about how much we love our NHS “heroes”.

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Adoration during a crisis is all very well, but while the rest of us get on with our lives nurses and other health workers are still being paid too little and asked to work too much, coping with endless staffing shortages and overwhelming demand. Winter pressure seemed to start in July last year, and the record-breaking impact has only just eased up, with some areas still struggling. When will it begin again? It’s not unlikely we’ll see the next wave of Covid in the summer, and then another in winter, perhaps even alongside the harsh flu season predicted last year. Staff will keep going, as they always do, but many fear the overwork and exhaustion will continue without any recognition that this is not how things are supposed to be, and that the continuing crisis cannot all be blamed on the pandemic.

We also seem to have forgotten the brief notice taken of unpaid carers. Many now feel abandoned, without desperately-needed financial support, and living in fear of themselves or the people they care for catching Covid from the mask-less and caution-free general public. Other vulnerable people are also still worried – especially those with Long Covid, of whom there are more than 150,000 in Scotland. Many are still extremely cautious, terrified of catching the disease again. They know what a devastating long-term effect it can have, and many who are still working have run out of sick leave and simply can’t afford it.

Some aspects of the last few years are definitely best forgotten. But recognition of – and preferably meaningful action to support – health and social care workers and unpaid carers should not be, as their challenges haven’t gone away.

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