A report from Saturday’s huge London demo against plans to make Covid vaccination mandatory for NHS staff by Charlotte Byrde, RN in Essex. Join us on 12 Feb in London to hear from expert epidemiologists and health workers at our next public meeting.
Along with the rest of the country I have existed for the last 22 month in an unfamiliar state of limbo. Turning the TV on, hoping for the best, preparing for the worst and depressingly unmoved by anything in between.
In my role as a specialist NHS registered nurse I have been forced to live and breathe the political decision making associated with this virus every single day. I have been redeployed twice to the intensive care unit; I have supported broken colleagues already running on empty due to chronic staff vacancies; had to tell patients living with chronic disease that the service currently has a 40 week wait to see a consultant; continually papered over the cracks.
But who would have imagined that for an estimated 100k of us, who had been clapped and cheered so feverishly on doorsteps up and down the country, the government was saving up its sharpest knife for now
November saw shock and disbelief about the mandate for care workers – er, hello, unions, where are you?
December saw the deepest depression as rumour and fear intensified that I may lose my job and a manager told me she wouldn’t have employed me to care for her now dead disabled child because I was a risk.
Early January and the feelings of isolation grew. I still hadn’t found anyone in my team or division that was unvaccinated – what would I do?
And then I found the NHS100k Telegram group.
3300 people like me! And so I decided to join the march in London this weekend.
My double jabbed and boosted friend and work colleague, a nurse of 25 years, said she would come on the march to support the principle of consent not coercion. She is furious with the government’s mandate and the inevitable collapse of the NHS from the job losses it will cause.
Saturday morning arrived and we met on the train into Liverpool Street
We pinned our purple badges on and sat on a bench at the meeting point waiting (hoping) we wouldn’t be alone.
And then they came. I had found my tribe.
Lilith & the organisers of the NHS100k movement did a good job ensuring we stayed behind the message: Not Anti Vax But Anti Jab Mandate. United behind the principle of body autonomy and choice. As healthcare professionals we deal in the business of informed consent and patient safety.
I spoke to a cardiac nurse of 18 years, soon to lose her job, who said that the #thishill was a unifying message, and that she had regretted not finding her hill sooner. I spoke to an optician all the way from Devon who knew that if the NHS mandate went ahead it would be his profession next.
I spoke to a heartbroken healthcare assistant who had spent Christmas alone as her parents wouldn’t let her in their home unvaccinated. There was an impressive presence from the midwives – so many prepared to lose their jobs. And so many that had “never marched in their lives!”
Arriving at Regent’s Park tube station an hour before we were due to set off. Already the pavement was full of people in blue NHS hoodies and carrying banners. We couldn’t see the start of the group and within 10 mins couldn’t see the end. There were thousands of us – thousands – and we still had to meet up with other marchers at Portland Place.
There was the inevitable hanging around before the start but the time was not wasted. Lots of chat, people getting the opportunity to meet and engage with others about all that they had experienced, the isolation and bullying in their workplaces. And there was another emerging theme: Where are our UNIONS? Where is the Labour Party?
The overwhelming sense of the day was one of solidarity and strength. That we had wide support. Clever signs, singing, music, drumming & good walking weather
On to Trafalgar Sq where I made my way through the crowd to the steps in front of the National Portrait gallery. NHS workers had begun laying their uniforms and it was a very visual reminder of the loss we would ALL feel on April 1st. We had written our length of service on each piece. Can anyone even begin to fathom the value of the collective years of professional knowledge and practice about to be discarded?
Then we set of to Whitehalll and the mood changed
The strength of the day from the strength of support we had… it all kinda stopped when the sobering reality of losing our jobs, quite rightly, took centre stage
We were clapped and patted on the shoulder as we moved through the crowd to the gates on Downing Street. Many NHS staff were crying. The crowd clapped and hugged us. But the cheering stopped for a time whilst the cruelty of this mandate was really felt
And then we threw their uniforms onto the gates of No. 10.
So. The government has just two weeks now to flatten this mandate.
There is absolutely NO credible science behind it.
There is NO resource to backfill 100,000 vacancies
There is NO way of replacing their collective skills, knowledge and practice.
But hey … IF ever an employer wanted to get rid of 100k workers who stood up for themselves… then well… way to go.
We’re so grateful for Charlotte’s report on this pivotal demo. Join us on 12 February to rally for the fightback as we reclaim workers’ rights from two years of attacks on workplace safety and bodily autonomy.