So Boris is out of hospital and recuperating at Chequers, effusively thanking the NHS, and two named nurses in particular, for saving his life. One of the two nurses came, he said, from New Zealand, the other came from Spain. When he was thanking them very sincerely for what they did for him, one wonders whether he was actually registering that both were immigrants to UK. Neither was British. One came to us from the other end of the earth; the other came from the despised EU. One will have had to pay prohibitively high visa charges for the privilege of saving his life; the other will have been made to feel as unwelcome as possible by his longstanding anti-EU rhetoric and the magnifying effect that has had as it has rippled through the more xenophobic sections of our society.
So far, over thirty members of NHS staff have died as a result of contracting Covid-19. The first ten doctors who died were all from minority ethnic backgrounds, as has been pointed out by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the chairman of the British Medical Association Council, who added that several of them had come to this country to serve in the NHS and given their lives trying to save the lives of the rest of us. It will probably never be provable in a court of law that their deaths were the direct result of the shameful inadequacy of the protective equipment many members of NHS staff are being expected to wear. But the government Boris is supposed to be leading will always bear a very heavy responsibility for these and future Covid-related NHS staff deaths. In the meantime the business of ducking that responsibility carries on apace. The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whose ineffectual mediocrity is directly proportional to the portentousness of his title, tries to blame the shortage of personal protective equipment on NHS staff who, he claims, are abusing it – even as desperate hospital managers find themselves having to resort to ordering their protective equipment directly from China. The equally over-promoted Home Secretary meanwhile refuses to apologize for the shortage of equipment, preferring rather to apologize, equally insultingly, that NHS staff might just “feel” under-protected.
Is it too much to hope that Boris’s survival in these circumstances might possibly be the occasion for an iota of optimism for the future? There is obviously nothing he can do now about the government’s fatally negligent lack of preparation for the global pandemic Bill Gates was predicting five years ago. But Boris’s chequered career always appears to have been built entirely on self-interest. When it comes to self-interest, having one’s life saved has to top the priority list. The personal debt to the NHS that the prime minister clearly feels could, one might hope, be repaid by his trying to make up for the damage done to the NHS by the years of austerity. The debt he feels to the two nurses who, by his own account, saved his life, could be repaid by raising nurses’ salaries to ensure that they are commensurate with the life-saving work our nurses do. It is even possible that Boris might get round to appointing a credible Home Secretary to ensure that the “hostile environment” faced by people who come to UK to work, and in many instances to save lives, is done away with once and for all.