"As a society we should be ashamed of how we treat and resource the NHS"

Niall Murphy with his mother, Brigid, after leaving Antrim Area Hospital where he was treated for COVID-19.

Niall Murphy with his mother, Brigid, after leaving Antrim Area Hospital where he was treated for COVID-19.

I have never been sick before or been to hospital, apart from sports injuries and for the birth of our three children, so I’ve had very little real experience or appreciation of being a patient, with your life in the hands of the NHS.

I do now.

When you are in ICU you’re totally incapacitated.

The ventilator that was breathing for me for 16-days when I was in a coma, was managed by dedicated and expert staff who I know worked around the clock to save my life.

The dignity that they restore in the patient, every patient, is both humbling and inspiring.

My mother has a very strong faith and prayed that my bed would be guarded by angels.

And I was, by the doctors, nurses, physios and staff of the NHS.

These people are the equivalent of the firemen who rushed into New York’s Twin Towers on 9/11, yet we have asked them to confront this crisis with insufficient Personal Protection Equipment (PPE).

That’s a disgrace.

As a society we should be ashamed of how we treat and resource the NHS. We should be ashamed at the fact that our local nurses had to strike in the darkness of winter to secure safe staffing levels and pay parity.

Just think about that. Striking to ensure safe staffing levels. Weeks before a pandemic struck.

If I was a nurse and Matt Hancock came near me with a badge he’d be picking a window.

In France, medical staff were given a €1,500 tax-free bonus as a reflection of the life-saving work in the crisis. That should happen immediately for NHS staff – and would only represent a start.

Not a badge.

We should also recall that the current Tory government voted against pay rises for nurses and no amount of honeyed words about the great treatment he received (from nurses who would have residency problems ironically post Brexit) from Boris Johnston should distract from that.

An immediate rise and sustainable pay structure should be immediately considered by the British parliament. Student loans for all front line health care workers should be cancelled if they are working in the NHS.

How would you pay for this?


The wealthy should pay more in tax.

The Duke of Westminster, the second richest person in Britain with an estimated £10bn fortune, donated £12.5m to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. However, his gift equates to just 0.1% of his centuries-old inherited wealth.

That's the equivalent to me giving £25 or two hours works by an ICU nurse. He can afford the philanthropy as he inherited £9bn tax free, a sum that would normally come with a £3.6bn tax bill.

That is where the money can come from.

Britain does not need a nuclear submarine sitting idle in the North Sea which costs trillions.

It is a fallacy to say that a complete reconstruction and reimagination of the NHS is not possible.

It is imperative.

Last week the Health Minister, Robin Swann sent back 250,000 gowns to England over the past fortnight. On Friday night he sent more.

The British Health Minister, Matt Hancock had approached both Scotland and Wales for more PPE and was sent packing. They both made it clear they wouldn’t be implementing the revised Public Health England guidance instructing their frontline to reuse PPE that’s meant for single use. Yet the response from Minister Swann was to return more gowns that only a few weeks earlier he needed here as a matter of urgency.

Then late last week staff were told to audit PPE stocks. They were instructed to count one glove as one piece of PPE.

I don’t know many nurses who can care for their patients with one hand.

It’s disgusting and a manipulation of the stock here. Nurses and frontline staff here have continually begged the Minister and Permanent Secretary to be open and transparent about PPE stock levels here as a way of reassuring them there will always be continuous supply but once again they circle the wagons and operate with secrecy.

No transparency unlike Scotland who publish their stock levels.

Minister Swann needs to come out to reassure frontline workers that it will not be implemented here in the same way his counterparts in Scotland and Wales have been clear. Surely he must be able to state categorically that it won’t be implemented here if he is returning stock to England.

So what reassurance does a nurse have when they see thousands of gowns going to England that there is enough here for them and the conclusion they draw is they are second class citizens.

In Dublin, the staff have first class PPE, disposable scrubs left out for staff three times a day and access to changing and shower facilities in the hospital, whereas the Department of Health here is considering a proposal from Matt Hancock that NHS frontline staff should reuse single use equipment!

I am aware of health service staff sleeping in their cars in case they would infect their families.

It’s a difference of day and night.

The event of this virus should cause all of us to pause and re-evaluate our way of life.

The first immediate consideration should be the funding and resourcing of the NHS but also how we value and appreciate those who work in it.

Enough time has been wasted.

There are immediate steps that can be taken now.

We are now running out of time.

Receive The Detail story alerts by email