Medical staff can't pick and choose — it undermines their authority
Images of the protests held in London this Saturday over lockdown, vaccine passports and ongoing restrictions, sparked a predictably venomous response from many prominent healthcare workers.
Wondering why #IstandwithNHSstaff is trending? Because today NHS staff across the country were devastated to see thousands of people marching through London.
We’ve buried our colleagues. And we won’t let you spit on their graves.
If you support NHS staff please follow us & RT pic.twitter.com/qwTYvcvsp0
— NHS Million 💙 (@NHSMillion) April 24, 2021
Criticism was widespread, primarily focusing on the foolishness of protest (rather than the reason for it), ranging from angry predictions of a third wave to wondering out loud if medical care should be withdrawn for those who participated.
There is, of course, the issue of whether it was actually correct to criticise the march. After all, protesting is a basic democratic right, prevalence of Covid is low, and outdoor activities are associated with less transmission than indoors. Moreover, a significant proportion of the vulnerable population has been vaccinated.
Indeed, it is worth considering that Patrick Vallance, giving evidence to a select committee earlier this year, reported that, based on data on marches in New York, there had been no spikes following protests, and in January, Jonathan Van Tam reiterated his belief that it was only necessary to wear face coverings indoors.
This aside, perhaps a more important question should be asked — where was the same outcry remarking on the danger and recklessness of other recent protests, which also took place in a pandemic?
The Sarah Everard vigil, and associated protest, occurred earlier in the year, when prevalence was higher, and fewer people had been vaccinated. Yet, far from provoking widespread condemnation, it was greeted with encouragement by many medics. There was even anger towards the police for acting in such a heavy handed manner when they broke it up under the auspices of “Public Health”.
Similarly, the protests earlier this week in response to the (thankfully doomed) football Super League — which even included singing! — were met with silence. Likewise, few medical staff argued that scenes earlier this month from the “Kill the Bill” protests against the government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, had them fearing a third wave.
This selective outrage towards protesting by many in healthcare appears to be a very odd affliction. Strangely, it only seems to flare up when protests are related to lockdowns, vaccine passports, and masks. Even though everyone has their own political views, there is a difference between criticising the reason for someone’s protest, and using the pandemic as justification in order to argue against the right to protest.
Medical staff crying foul, and invoking their position as NHS employees in order to condemn only certain protests, and certain people — those they disagree with — are at risk of appearing, at best, inconsistent, and at worse, manipulative.
Amy Jones is an anonymous doctor working in the NHS, who has a background in Philosophy & Bioethics. You can follow her on Twitter at @skepticalzebra