Boris Johnson, Partygate and NHS crisis: Appalling failings of leadership make me fear for this country – Dr Asha Goyal

As my dad lay dying of Covid, I watched his deterioration over Facetime or through the bedroom window at his care home.

I was not allowed to be in the room with him. After his passing, I was unable to hug my brothers, or have visitors to share tears and stories, as is part of the grieving ritual.

The funeral was limited to ten people, was socially distanced and his coffin was not permitted to be open as is the Hindu tradition. We took all of these rules seriously and with grace. It was for the greater good and for our collective fight against this sickening pandemic.

Within my professional life as a GP, every day I witnessed devastating effects of the rules of lockdown: on my elderly patients who were isolated; on my vulnerable patients with mental health issues; on children with social anxiety who I knew would struggle to return to school.

And yet they all stuck to the rules.

During the first lockdown, the staff at my practice were struggling. There was a constant undercurrent of fear and anxiety in our patients which could present in the form of anger and frustration towards our team.

The staff were frazzled, scared and overwhelmed, and yet they turned up to work every day to serve. We had two retirements early in lockdown, members of staff who had been with us for many years.

We discussed an idea to stay behind one evening, to have a drink together, socially distanced for an hour or so after work. Some staff’s rationale was that they were together all day anyway and they missed socialising.

Boris Johnson should have followed his own rules over parties in Downing Street (Picture: Ian Vogler/pool/AFP via Getty Images)

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It felt heartless and cold, but I had to discourage this. It was breaking the rules and unacceptable in my eyes. Despite being unpopular for doing this, this is what leadership is about.

It’s about making the unpopular decisions and leading by example. It’s about demonstrating integrity with your actions as well as your words. It’s about supporting your staff with empathy and care, whilst always remembering the bigger picture.

So if I abided by the rules and encouraged my staff and patients to do the same, why could the very person who was making these rules not follow them himself? If I was making sacrifices – personally and professionally – why were our leaders throwing and partaking in illegal parties?

I have never been particularly political, but this pandemic has made me sit up and take notice, and I am appalled by what I see – of course by the parties and the immoral behaviour of many politicians during this pandemic. But also in a broader sense by the neglect of my profession, by the under-resourcing of primary care for so long that it is now in crisis, and by the fact that colleagues are broken and burned out.

I fear for my profession which is on its knees and in an unsustainable situation. And I fear for a country where the leader has been fined for breaking the law and yet is allowed to remain in his role.

Dr Asha Goyal is a GP in west of Scotland and has worked in the NHS for over 20 years


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