The future of the left since 1884

Playing our part

With question marks over the government's handling of Covid-19, Labour’s new leader must rapidly push the government to improve its response, writes Martin Edobor.



Within a fortnight, life in the UK has changed beyond recognition. We are living in a real dystopia – confined to our homes, remote working, with one daily government- sanctioned break for exercise and a weekly essential shop. Our liberty has been sacrificed for a just cause, to suppress the spread of Covid-19.

For key workers like me, an NHS general practitioner, remote working is not an option. We continue to fulfil our duty to the public working from our practices.

Following the introduction of the lockdown, our roles as GPs have been transformed, shifting from traditional face-to-face consultations to a virtual set-up using a combination of telephone and video consultations. New protocols and policies have been introduced to help clinicians manage Covid-19.

However, for many of my colleagues working in a secondary care environment such as accident and emergency departments, face-to-face interactions remain a necessity. As the number of Covid-19 cases rises exponentially, so does their workload and risk.

There has been vocal concern among healthcare staff about the lack of availability of personal protective equipment (PPE), with the Guardian on Monday revealing that suppliers in Northern Ireland report prolonged delays in delivering protective gear.

The lack of PPE on the NHS frontlines, coupled with the inadequate testing for frontline workers as an increasing number self isolate is a cause for concern. With the prime minister testing positive for Covid-19 and several cabinet members self isolating, there are many calling into question the effectiveness of the government’s Covid-19 response.

We are now familiar with the government’s daily press briefings, where Boris Johnson so often invokes the language of war as he summons his inner Churchill. Yes, Covid-19 is a challenge like no other, requiring a wartime effort to overcome.

However, one must ask the question: if we are at war, why are we sending our healthcare staff to the frontlines without the personal protective equipment they require? After the recent deaths of healthcare staff from Covid-19, many are rightly concerned for themselves and loved ones, a point frequently highlighted by shadow health secretary, Jonathan Ashworth.

Ashworth has been a strong frontbench Labour voice during this crisis, providing effective constructive criticism of the government. Highlighting the key issues of lack of PPE, shortage of ventilators and woeful levels of Covid-19 testing. Ashworth has been invaluable during this period.

This week a new Labour leader will be announced, assuming office with no honeymoon period to embed themselves with the public, nor the space to play politics. A clear and immediate response to the crisis must be delivered by the new leader.

The options might include putting together a “shadow Cobra” committee made up of relevant shadow ministers, advisors, and academics. Alternatively, the new Labour leader might decide to take the lead in working more closely with the government. With the prime minister’s response to Covid-19 mired with mixed messages, delays and obfuscation, the Labour leader could simply choose to place pressure on the government.

Whatever the exact approach of the new leader, a form of cross-party working will be required for the government to overcome this crisis. The opposition must move beyond criticism and lead through concrete proposals aimed to improve the government’s Covid-19 response.

With each day in politics feeling like several lifetimes, we have seen a Conservative government discard its orthodoxy through an unprecedented expansion of the state. With our usual freedoms curtailed, and with real uncertainty in the days and weeks ahead  it can be easy to feel lost. There will be no quick fix to this crisis and with the scale of the challenge we must wish the government well.

The deputy chief medical officer, Dr Jenny Harries indicated that lockdown measures in one shape or form may last three to six months. We are in this for the long haul. Like all of you I miss spending time with my family, attending my local gym and visiting my favourite places. It may be a while before we return to normality, however, to get there we all have a part to play in overcoming the challenge of Covid-19.

Photo credit: Tim Dennell/Flickr 

Martin Edobor

Dr Martin Edobor is vice-chair of the Fabian Society and and NHS general practitioner.


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