Remembering NHS workers lost to pandemic means learning lessons for future

Memorial service recognises health staff who lost lives

Speaking at a memorial event today (Saturday) commemorating the lives of the hundreds of NHS and care workers who lost their lives during the pandemic, UNISON head of health Sara Gorton said:

“At the start of last year the impact of Covid was unimaginable. But chilling images from hospitals around the world showed this was no ordinary virus. When the nightmare hit these shores, the UK changed forever.

“While most people were locked down safely at home, NHS staff did what they always do – went into work to care for patients and save lives.

“But overnight the everyday became terrifying. Staff were anxious for their own safety and that of their families.

“Reports that stocks of safety kit were running low added to their sense of unease, as quickly the virus claimed the lives of patients. Then colleagues began to die too.

“It’s still not clear why Covid proved fatal for some health workers and not others. But black and asian staff were much more likely to fall ill and die. Many had come from across the world to work in the NHS.

“No part of the NHS team was spared. Young workers and older colleagues died. The virus didn’t care whether they were experienced staff or new in post.

“Vaccines now have the pandemic in retreat, but the impact can never be erased. Every one of close to 1,000 NHS and care staff so cruelly taken left grieving families and devastated colleagues.

“Doctors, porters, nurses, administrative staff, midwives, receptionists, paramedics, cleaners, radiographers, domestics, consultants, drivers, care workers and many others from across the NHS family went to work one day and never came back.

“Many bereaved families – especially those from overseas – still struggle to access their relatives’ death in service benefits. Money can never replace loved ones, but it can help make the future more bearable.

“Some who survived still fight the infection or have to cope with the life-changing consequences of the virus.

“Today is an opportunity to reflect on how the pandemic has changed notions of what and who is essential. And to accept the stark reality that the Covid burden didn’t fall evenly across UK society or its workplaces.

“The lessons of this terrible pandemic must be learned so the country is better prepared in future. Mistakes can never be repeated. That’s why the start date for the public inquiry must be brought forward.

“The hundreds and hundreds of dedicated NHS workers who died battling to save the lives of others must never be forgotten. We owe them all a debt of immense gratitude.”

Notes to editors:
– The NHS staff memorial service took place this afternoon at the London Blossom Garden at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It is one of a series of events marking the 73rd birthday of the NHS being founded and commemorated, and all the healthcare workers who lost their lives in the pandemic. The vigil was led by Andrew Copson, chief executive of Humanists UK and included speeches from Prerana Issar, chief people officer NHS England and NHS Improvement; Mark Radford, deputy chief nursing officer, NHS England and NHS Improvement; Elaine Thorpe, critical care matron, University College London Hospitals; Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and UNISON’s Sara Gorton. The event included a two-minute silence and a wreath laying.
– UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. They are employed in the public, voluntary and private sectors.

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