We forced the government to do right by NHS workers. Let’s keep the pressure on

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أخر تحديث : jeudi 21 mai 2020 - 6:59
We forced the government to do right by NHS workers. Let’s keep the pressure on

Every day, I wake at the crack of dawn. I walk to my local hospital, put on my scrubs and my PPE. I sweat in it – mopping floors, disinfecting surfaces, cleaning everything that might be touched by a hand. I am aware that if I miss a spot, the virus might stay on the surface, and someone might die

At the end of the day I return home to my partner, exhausted – emotionally, as much as physically – put moisturiser on my hands, which are cracked and dry from the cleaning products, and fall asleep

This is my daily routine now. Before the coronavirus pandemic, I was a photographer and film-maker. But when the impact of Covid-19 started to become clear, I put that work on hold and looked for a more immediate way to help my community. I saw my local hospital, Whipps Cross, was looking for cleaners. I applied, was interviewed and trained, and began work there that same week

Yesterday, while scrolling through my phone on the walk into work, I saw an article that read: “NHS porters, cleaners and social care staff have been left out of a Home Office scheme granting families of health workers indefinite leave to remain in the UK if they die of coronavirus”. It felt like I’d been slapped across the face. My partner and I are both Syrian. To know that, should the worst happen to me, she would not be granted indefinite leave to remain, was indescribably hurtful. I also thought of my colleagues and their families, all of whom are incredibly important to me. While I’ve done this job for just under two months, most of them have been doing it for years, if not decades. They are from all over the world: Spain, Ghana, Poland, Nigeria, Italy, the Caribbean, India. Their expertise and dedication inspires me every day

During my lunch break, I sat in my car and, out of desperation, filmed a plea to our prime minister. I told him that although “I’ve been really enjoying the clapping that you and your fellow ministers in the government do every week, today, however, I felt betrayed, stabbed in the back.” I posted it on Twitter, and within a few hours it had nearly a million views. Thousands were resharing it, voicing their solidarity with, and admiration for, the people who turn up each day at their frontline jobs and risk their lives to keep the country running

Then something happened. Five hours after I posted my initial tweet, the home secretary announced a U-turn: the bereavement scheme was to be expanded to include all NHS support staff and their families, effective immediately and retrospectively. This action was a result of the work of pressure from unions and politicians, as well as everyone who spoke out

I am moved by the countless responses to my video from members of the public who are passionate about ensuring every worker and their family has access to an equal level of protection. This is bigger than the scheme being expanded to include NHS support staff. This is a demonstration that the country has the ability to change. To use our experiences of the pandemic to care more deeply for one another, and to take the concrete actions needed to improve the lives of both migrant workers and other marginalised communities through the UK

There is still a lot of work to do. To only include support staff in the scheme following a public outcry is not enough – the government must do more to protect key workers. Health workers are still dying on the frontline, with the recorded total – nearly 200 at the time of writing – now exceeding the number (179) of British military personnel who died in the Iraq war. A disproportionate number of BAME staff have died, and we know that minority groups are overrepresented by up to 27% in the overall Covid-19 death toll

In addition to these risks, we know that there are 153,000 non-British nationals working for the NHS, who will be taxed double to access health services because of their immigration status – once through income tax and then through the immigration health surcharge. We want to support the NHS, but also to be able to use it in our own times of need without prohibitive costs stopping us

I will continue to use my platform as much as possible, to open spaces for discussion on how we can create a more fair, inclusive, and kind society that recognises the contributions those from all over the world make not just to the NHS, but to our country as a whole. I hope you will join me in this effort

Hassan Akkad is an award winning film-maker, photojournalist and activist who was displaced from Syria in 2012. He is working as a cleaner in the Covid-19 ward at Whipps Cross Hospital in London

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