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by BETH ABBIT - Wed Aug 3, 2022
In the flurry of statistics and warnings about ‘major incidents’ and ‘high alerts’ that punctuate stories of our health system, it can be easy to forget the human faces behind it all.
The medics who worked all hours in the most difficult conditions during the pandemic did not get a break following the most intense moment in NHS history. Instead they ploughed on and are now battling serious bed shortages, ambulance delays and even unwelcome IT problems.
Things have taken their toll on consultant physician David Oliver, who has looked after Covid wards and patients for many months over the past two years. He has been signed off work sick and forced to stand down from his role as president of the Royal College of Physicians after finally catching Covid himself in March.
"While not sick enough to be admitted, I haven’t been right since,” he writes, in an eye-opening piece that first appeared in the British Medical Journal. “Some of my symptoms have doubtless been Covid related, but others were due to burnout, anxiety, and depression — eventually leading to my being signed off work sick in mid-May, unsure when I can return to clinical work.”
He adds: “If this has happened to me - a veteran, stress tempered NHS doctor, 33 years in the job, with no long-term conditions and previously fairly robust - then few of us are likely to be exempt from the strains of the past couple of years.”
Prof Oliver, from south Manchester, now works in the South East, but his experiences are echoed throughout the NHS. After more than two years working at the centre of the Covid-19 pandemic, he says the heavy toll of relentless pressure on NHS workers is far from unique to him.
In the early days of the pandemic, while working for a designated acute 'hot' Covid ward, Prof Oliver says the lack of a vaccine, variable PPE and confusing and inconsistent advice, caused much anxiety. “People I worked with were coming to work every day at personal risk and with varying levels of anxiety, not just for themselves but for their partners," he writes.
"I got almost blasé about my own risk of infection at the time and enjoyed being useful and like I was making a difference. But my wife was worried every day, knowing that I’d be more interested in trying to speak to deaf or confused or anxious patients at close hand than worrying about personal protection.”
Prof Oliver, lost close NHS colleagues and friends to Covid and saw many more become ill. He says staff were dealing with ‘relentless distress’. Meanwhile, restrictions on travel meant medics were spending hours on the phone having awful conversations with patients’ distressed relatives. “One Saturday, five of my patients died within 90 minutes, and we had to speak to all of their families by phone,” he writes.
The consultant warns that the NHS is battling major backlogs, relentless pressure, huge recruitment and retention issues, staffing gaps, social care pressures, and health inequalities. He adds: “Without sufficient clinical and care staff, in sufficiently good health, and with sufficient support, energy, and morale, there will soon be no viable NHS or social care system.”
- Thursday: Cloudy changing to heavy showers by late morning. 19C.
- Roads closed: Eccles New Road eastbound from Weaste Road to Langworthy Road, until October 24. Ashton Road in both directions for water main work between Scottfield & Copster Hill Road until August 4.
- Trams: No service on Metrolink between Eccles and MediaCityUK due to engineering works until October 21.
- On the buses: Arriva services suspended due to strike action
- Today's Manc trivia question: The first meeting of the Suffragettes took place at Emmeline Pankhurst's home, which now sits in the shadow of which hospital?
Answer at the bottom of the newsletter
God’s Own Country
Almost half a century on from Saddleworth being separated from the rest of Yorkshire, there are some residents who still believe it is part of the White Rose county.
Historically part of the former West Riding of Yorkshire, the collection of villages and hamlets became part of Oldham and Greater Manchester under the local government overhaul of 1974. But as Tom George reports it’s not been so easy to shake off hundreds of years of heritage. Some villagers still refuse to accept the decision and take to the streets each year to celebrate Yorkshire Day.
Viki Taylor was brought up several miles away in Shaw and identifies as a 'Lancashire lass'. She now lives in Saddleworth and believes the area falls under Yorkshire. "It's a lot of the older generation who care,” she says. “Anybody born up to 1973 has West Yorkshire on their birth certificate. I don't think it matters to the new generation. It's definitely the best way to get an argument going on the local Facebook group though."
Proud Yorkshireman Mark Mothersdale is more hard line. “Saddleworth is Yorkshire," he insists. "It always has been. A lot of people round here feel the same way. It's Yorkshire and they have just taken it away."
Fancy a brew?
When she's not forming part of the most successful England football team for decades, Jill Scott has another venture right here in Manchester. The Lioness owns Boxx2Boxx coffee shop, in Northenden, with partner Shelly Unitt.
So-called because of Jill's infamous role as a box-to-box midfielder, the cafe is popular with locals, but has attracted football fans from as far away as Hong Kong and Australia during the Women's Euros with queues out the door.
Shelly told reporter Hana Kelly : "When Jill is in the shop, it just goes completely manic, wild. Everyone wants to come down and chat and Jill’s got a lot of time for everybody."
Read more: Demand for Manchester City women's tickets shoots up by 3,000%
'Dad said football wasn't for girls' - what Lionesses win means to fans
Knife crime: Families and local leaders are working to tackle knife crime in Greater Manchester. Kelly Brown, whose son Rhamero West was fatally stabbed last year, says communities need to work together to save lives. She has joined Andy Burnham to launch a new video entitled #SpeakingOutCouldSaveALife to encourage people to report concerns around knife crime and serious violence.
Dog day out: Dogs are being allowed on Metrolink trams for the first time from this week as part of a three-month trial - a manifesto pledge made by Andy Burnham. There are rules in place with a two dog maximum per passenger and leads required. Samuel Bell, travelling with George the pug, is delighted. “I think Manchester wants to be more like London and I think this is great, it’s really good. I just hope that no one ruins it."
Crisis: Disabled people say the cost of living crisis is costing them more than most due to higher heating requirements, specific food needs and powered wheelchairs. Members of the Greater Manchester Disabled People's Panel are collecting data to 'lift the lid' on the impact.
Digging into history
Archaeologists are working at Hulton Park Estate to uncover the secrets of the 17th century hall, which inspired Downton Abbey. A team from Salford University are leading the dig, but volunteers of all ages have been invited to come along and help.
It's got quite a history, as Tom Molloy reports. This slightly eerie image shows the hall's drawing room with armour and paintings.
Worth a read
As a football fan and a former player, reporter Nicole Wooton-Cane says she will never forget the moment England won the Women’s Euros. Joining a women’s team as a teenager sparked a ‘lifelong love of the beautiful game’, but as she writes in her great opinion piece, it was difficult to find representation as a young female player.
Nicole says the Lionesses' exceptional victory is proof that great football has no gender - but we can't afford to lose momentum.
That's all for today
Thanks for joining me, the next edition of the Mancunian Way will be with you around the same time tomorrow. If you have any stories you would like us to feature or look into, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The answer to today’s trivia question, the first meeting of the Suffragettes took place at Emmeline Pankhurst's home, which now sits in the shadow of which hospital, is Manchester Royal Infirmary.