Low skilled they called you on before this was begun – as you cared and supported the most vulnerable members of our communities. Coming in and out of people’s homes with a smile and a laugh, offering fun and activities in residential and nursing homes and all the time supporting people to live as independently as they could by providing outstanding personal care – all without a murmur, clap or a cheer – all before we knew this new reality of COVID-19.
Keyworker they called you by the end of week 1 – giving you places in schools so that you could get to your vital work. Although for many, the meaning of the term key did not transpire into your daily experience. It was common place for your key worker status not to win you a place at the front of the supermarket queue, or concessions from transport companies – and even led to occasions where the police stopped you from attending your jobs – believing your work to be non essential – and far from key.
Critical they called you as the weeks went by – as things grew ever more serious for the country and the communities you served. As the Queen addressed the nation for only the 4th time in her reign, outside of her annual address, she thanked each and everyone of you – a really important symbol of how vital your role was to tackling this pandemic head on. However, behind the scenes, key blockages in the chain meant that you were not front in the queue for PPE, or indeed for vital testing to enable you to get back to work.
Incredible they called you as we neared the peak – placing bill boards and signage to thank you for everything that you do. Meanwhile seeking to add to your long list of tasks additional community health tasks normally carried out by our valued and pressurised health colleagues including wound care, insulin and Heparin administration – yet your step up came with no associated increase in recognition. Increasingly you needed to provide end of life care for residents you had cared for for years, whose families were part of your family, and who you loved like your own. You didn’t crumble, you didn’t falter – sometimes you even decided to move in to make sure that no one would be left alone, that you could continue to provide that level of care that runs through your DNA like the proverbial stick of rock.
The thanks continue, the claps grow louder, but the reality is beginning to hit home hard. The politician’s warm words are important, but are not as effective as PPE in the face of the virus. The large sums of money regularly highlighted in the daily briefings are just numbers until they emerge on the front line leaving the businesses you work for uncertain about how they will meet the exponentially increasing costs of delivering care in this unprecedented environment. The people flowing from hospital who have survived this dreadful virus will have increasing needs and challenges, and will need your expertise and care more than ever, and yet you may be still in isolation as the testing regime won’t have reached you yet.
I am not sure that you, the unseen care worker, ever asked for the claps and the cheers – but I am sure they are welcome. However, what would be more welcome would be institutional recognition of just how skilled and vital you are to the fabric of our community. That recognised in status and salary that when the call to care for the most vulnerable came forward – you were there – as you always have been – and took it on in spades. If ever there was a moment for reflection, a moment where every politician who has lauded the work of care staff as vital to the fight, a moment where we need our government to understand that words mean actions – then this is it. Think long and hard about what these amazing individuals are contributing each and every minute of this hard fought battle and consign the derogation of care workers as low skilled – and as a result, low paid – to annals of history. That would be a thank you that meant something…..