A YEAR after the first lockdown we should take a moment to reflect on how remarkable it is that we have a vaccine and Covid cases are dwindling.
Soon, some kind of normality will return for millions of us.
But this week I discovered that many people will never be able to recover from what has happened in the past year.
As a member of the House of Lords, I sat in on a session of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus.
It was set up last year to look at the Government’s handling of the pandemic and aims to ensure lessons are learned and lives are saved.
I was shocked at what I heard.
Witnesses from the NHS gave truly heartbreaking stories of stress, distress, pressure and anxiety.
We know they have done a brilliant job.
But what I, and I am sure many others, did not stop to really think about is how this will never, ever leave them.
They may not be able to move on like we can because the strain has been too much, something you can not bounce back from.
We heard how they have done their job with the very real and present fear they might not only catch the disease themselves but pass it on to their families.
They described how they have been working in hospitals that have been on red alert and in crisis mode for months and months.
And they spoke of the Intensive Care Unit staff who have witnessed a huge number of excess deaths.
We heard the heartbreaking story about a charge nurse who, during an eight-hour night shift in intensive care, had eight patients die within two and a half hours.
No matter how skilled you are, how resilient you are, no matter how used to working in ICU you are, this is very difficult to process.
The sheer number of patients they are dealing with has meant working extra hours that add up into hundreds over the year.
Some hours they are not even paid for.
We heard how critical care nurses, who are meant to offer one-to-one care, had to look after six patients each.
They told us that unless you have looked after a fully ventilated, critically ill patient in ICU, you cannot really understand how dreadful it is.
So I was not surprised to hear one of the witnesses, Professor Neil Greenberg, of King’s College London, say that during the pandemic, intensive care staff have suffered trauma levels twice those of military veterans.
NHS staff have been on the front line in conditions that are comparable to a war zone.
They have put their lives at risk, witnessing terrible suffering and upset — all while wearing PPE instead of armour.
Other experts said staff are struggling to recover from the “pure hell”.
And mental illness is believed to be higher among frontline health staff than in any other profession.
LIVES AT RISK
I really hate to say this but in many ways their trauma is only just beginning.
We now know that PTSD can last for years after the trauma that caused it.
A year into the pandemic, I suspect that the toll is only just beginning to show.
After hearing the evidence, the strong feeling I had was an enormous sense of pride at the work they do, and an enormous sense of sadness because of the toll that working through the pandemic has had on their emotional and psychological wellbeing.
What is clear is that everyone working in the NHS has a real sense of duty and responsibility.
But while both these attributes are laudable, they also bring additional pressure.
The NHS staff explained that being hailed a hero meant they felt an obligation to be strong, fearless and brave, and to keep going, no matter what.
As one nurse said: “I don’t want to be a hero any more. I am all worried out.”
A year on from lockdown let’s all just take a moment to reflect on what they have been through and recognise they need a proper thank you.
This should come in the form of a proper pay rise and time off to recharge their batteries.
It should also include priority access to mental health services, and working conditions that are suitable and appropriate for the job we rely on them to do.
And as we all struggle to make sense of the 12 months we have just been though, I think it is important to pause for a moment and reflect on the reality of what it has meant to be an NHS worker this past year.
Get it down, guys
NEWSFLASH: We are closer than we have ever been to a male version of the Pill.
One hundred men are trialling a nestorone/testosterone combination that is tipped to become the first male hormonal contraceptive on the market.
It works by using a progestin – a synthetic hormone also used in female contraceptives – together with a synthetic testosterone to switch off the man’s natural testosterone production.
That in turn means sperm are not made in the testes.
So far, trials have been extremely successful.
I mean, yes, there are a few side-effects – namely hot flushes, mood swings and weight gain.
But women have known for years that’s a small price to pay for contraception . . . right?
Thanks for taking care of it, boys!
Time's up for abuse
THE stories of “rape culture” in schools emerging since the tragic death of Sarah Everard – and the Everyone’s Invited movement designed to counter it – offer horror and hope in equal measure.
Horrifying for obvious reasons. Hopeful because women are saying we will not put up with it any longer.
Last week, girls at the capital’s Highgate School staged a walkout in protest at the sexual abuse and toxic harassment they say is rife there.
I am so proud of them for being brave enough to speak up and take action – and I am behind them all the way.
The more we talk about this issue and call out unacceptable behaviour, the harder it is for those responsible to hide in plain sight.
Soon there will be nowhere for those who support rape culture to hide.
Solidarity to the brave women who speak up.
Kim's bright future
Seeing the latest pictures of Kim Kardashian stepping out with a spring in her step, despite the fact that she is in the middle of getting divorced and looking after four kids, is a reminder that the camera really never lies.
She looks happy.
And let’s hope that when one door closes, another will open for her and she is on the brink of a new chapter.
Sunny daze ahead
AS of tomorrow, we are legally allowed six people in the garden.
I can hardly believe it – although I can’t imagine writing THAT a year ago. But we are where we are.
The clocks going forward heralds the arrival of spring, more daylight and hopefully more sunshine.
All in all, this is the start of an exciting new chapter. I can’t wait to see family and friends again, in their gardens and mine.
I am filled with optimism and gratitude that, slowly but surely, little parts of life are returning to normality.
To top it all, I have had my first jab . . . although with talk of vaccine passports for pubs, I feel a bit guilty about that.
After all, what about all those poor souls under 40 who have suffered enough and have not yet been vaccinated?
Surely taking pubs away from them is the final injustice . . . and ridiculous given the majority of pub workers are under 40.
Give us a break
AND just like that, as we were floating on a bubble of springtime hope, we hear summer holidays will be “all but cancelled”.
At least, so says Boris Johnson, as things are so difficult on the Continent.
Now we face an exciting new challenge: Getting through summer with no travel and nothing available here because we are all stuck at home.
I’m a big believer in the power of PMA (positive mental attitude) but I might need more than that to get through the next few months.
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