By David Jolley
At 6pm on Good Friday (April 10th) I received a text telling me that my GP surgery will be open April 10th (Good Friday) and April 13th (Easter Monday) 8.00am to 6.30pm and I should telephone to ask for help if I felt unwell.
This surprised me – it was a bit late for the Friday opening – and I thought Bank Holidays were Bank Holidays and surgeries would not be open. And in the context of the Covid-19 crisis the advice has been to stop at home, ask a chemist and save the NHS.
My wife suggests that the text (which she received first thing on Friday) is probably a reaction to the finding that people are not making contact with their GP at anything like the usual rate – the fear is that the bald message to keep away has been too simple and people are at risk of neglecting treatable illnesses other than Covid-19.
On Thursday – Maundy Thursday – at 8pm I had joined the rest of our household to clap the NHS – heroes in the fight against Covid-19. It was a wonderful, cheerful five minutes. Everyone along the row was out – we know each other, like each other, and it felt good to be expressing our appreciation and showing our togetherness. This was the third clapping Thursday – but the first that I had joined in. The rest of the family had been there on the previous weeks – but I had grumped that this felt like a political diversion – and the NHS has been wonderful since 1948 – and much appreciated by most people other than recent governments throughout the 70+ years. So why are we out on our doorsteps just now?
I joined in this week because the sense of the people coming together, finding an understanding of real values, and things we can do together to make the world safer and healthier, has come on strong. This is not a time to be grumpy and suspicious of political motives.
This virus is causing suffering and death. It is causing hardship, poverty and despair. Although it is affecting people of all ages and all classes, its greatest effects are on older people, especially those with multiple established illnesses including dementia, and those who are least well-off and most vulnerable by any measure.
Statistics are presented to us night after night. These describe the world situation and the local status. It is not easy to follow the numbers even with the interpretations given to us by experts. It does seem odd that we have been told to stay home and not expect to have a confirmatory test unless we become very ill and hospitalisation is needed. Only if that happens do we have chance to register as a case of Covid-19 – and become someone who might die from it. This has to mean that many cases go unrecognised in any formal way and the death rate as registered in this country relates only to people who have been admitted to hospital, confirmed as cases, and then die. Despite the daily death rate for the UK now hovering around 1,000, it is inevitable that the true death rate is higher. In particular we know that people who become unwell in care homes, many of them with dementia, are likely to stay there and may die there. They will not be counted – They will be saving the NHS: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/09/covid-19-hundreds-of-uk-care-home-deaths-not-added-to-official-toll
That is not to say that people who die in care homes with or without dementia don’t count. We do know that almost 70,000 people died with a diagnosis of dementia in England and Wales last year – half of these deaths were in care homes.
By the end of April 11th less than 11,000 people have died with a diagnosis of covid-19. There is real and proper concern that the number of deaths will sum to near 20,000.
Families, social services, independent agencies, charities and the NHS provide wonderful service to people living with dementia and dying with dementia, or with other chronic and progressive disorders. Appreciation of these efforts every day by giving thanks, if not by clapping at our thresholds, is the least we can do.
The difference about the Covid-19 suffering and dying is that it fits much closer to the image many people have of ‘real illness’ – an infection which affects people of all ages and all classes, with symptoms progressing over a number of days, a crisis for the worst affected, followed by recovery or death after urgent, heroic interventions. It is a model which fitted prevalent illnesses in the past. It is history. The value of present-day healthcare relates to a very different scenario – sadly it is sometimes less appreciated than it should be.
There is much for the people of the world, of any faith or none, to think on this Easter time.
Tonight we will light our candle at 7pm for the third Sunday running. I hope all our neighbours will do the same.
And I will look again at a programme which offers a whimsical diversion on the Easter story, in plants, which fits easy with me and the park www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000h0f6