The invisible army

Photo credit: George Arthur Plueger @Unsplash

I was struck by the comments of two friends this week on social media which did more than anything to help me understand the true plight of the staff who are caring for people in residential homes during this pandemic.

One friend is a doctor in Scotland, she often has to make visits to care homes, it's part of the normal workload of a busy GP .  She told me that while staff nursing Covid patients in an ITU are in the front line, the viral load when someone is dying is high, wherever your care facility is.  And as we know, now that our government has at long last included care home deaths, a lot of residents are dying.

My friend then commented that given this situation she sees the staff in care homes working in the same PPE (or less) than she would wear to see someone with appendicitis....gloves, maybe a plastic apron...

And later that evening another friend posted on twitter that she had been laying awake thinking about the care home staff she had met that day.  She is normally a hospital-based palliative care nurse but is part of a special team which certifies deaths in care homes during the pandemic.

She is seeing first hand what the staff are having to deal with.  The nurse in charge of one of the homes she visited that day was 81, vulnerable and high risk herself but a dedicated nurse through and through, putting her life on the line. 25 of the 90 residents in that home were Covid positive and the staff were doing what they could to protect themselves and the other residents.

These carers are the invisible army.

They work for low pay in residential care homes across the UK, looking after our senior citizens.  They get to know them as people, their lives, their stories, their families.  And when one of their residents dies they are the last people to see them alive.

Frontline staff in an  ITU don't have time to form these bonds with their patients, not in the same way as carers in residential homes.  They are the invisible army and they are as much at the forefront of the pandemic as the staff in hospitals.

Today the government included the statistics for care home deaths in their overall Covid death rates.

It's harrowing.

And it puts into perspective how our broken and underfunded social care system is struggling under the burden of the Covid pandemic as thousands die in homes where staff lack equipment and resources to protect themselves and other residents.

And to know that day in day out there are people risking their own lives with minimal support and protection - it's sobering.

"What can I do? What can we do?" I asked my friends.

There is no answer. This is not a problem we can solve but all we can do is show that we see them, we know what they are facing, we feel their pain as a resident they have cared for, often for years, succumbs to this awful virus....

My GP friend put out a call for donations of snacks for the carers, so that she could drop them off.  She knows that on the world scale of things it wont make a difference but it shows that they are seen.

Maybe when we are thinking about taking cakes and treats to hospital staff we could also include the invisible army facing an impossible task.

If you make masks or scrubs, maybe drop some off to your nearest residential care home. Or just leave a box of biscuits at the front door, with a note to say "I see you, I appreciate you".

These are the people who care for our senior citizens, people who deserve better as they care for people in their final days.

Let's shine a light on them, they deserve so much better.




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