“Stay Home, Protect the NHS, and Save Lives.” This message has been drilled into us so much that we could probably recite it in our sleep. Following the first lockdown on 16 March 2020 it felt like we were all in it together. There were widespread messages of thanks and support for key workers and there was a collective understanding that we all had our role to play in preventing the NHS from becoming overwhelmed.
With time, and possibly due to news fatigue or apathy, this understanding has wavered. Now, in this third lockdown, some members of the public are asking questions such as “What are we trying to protect the NHS from?” and “Is there really a pandemic?” Some are even saying that the entire pandemic has been exaggerated so that the NHS can avoid seeing patients.
These views could not be further from the truth. To say the NHS is becoming overwhelmed is an understatement. We see the daily number of deaths rising and cases exploding but sadly many people are becoming numb to the statistics. We are trying to fight a blazing fire and those who knowingly disregard the rules add fuel to the flames, especially if they are high profile individuals.
Posting videos on social media of empty hospital corridors to try and support the false narrative that hospitals are empty is grossly misleading and offensive. People chanting “covid is a hoax” outside London’s St Thomas’ hospital will have detrimental consequences on the morale of NHS staff.
There are some who have spoken out against these actions and explained how they affect those of us on the front line. However, the tide of public support feels like it has turned against us.
A recent poll of 1250 general practitioners carried out by Medical Protection Society showed that over one in three GPs have suffered verbal or physical abuse by patients or their relatives during the pandemic. We have even seen reports of car windows of staff being smashed, physical intimidation and murals in their honour, defaced.
Words cannot express the degree of bitterness felt by medical professions towards this destructive behaviour, nor the damaging effects it has on staff wellbeing and morale. It is insulting, incomprehensible, and utterly intolerable.
Although they are in the minority, the effects that covid-19 deniers can have are significant. Therefore we must try not to engage with them on social media, as it simply gives them a platform to spread their baseless rhetoric.
As exhausting and demoralising as fighting to be believed can be, we must remember that the majority of the public are supportive and appreciative. We will get through this pandemic by standing together, supporting each other, and treating one another with basic decency and respect.
Neena Jha is a salaried GP in Hertfordshire with an interest in emergency care and global child heath. The views expressed above are her own. Twitter: @DrNeenaJha
Simon Hodes has worked as a GP partner in the same Watford practice since 2001, and is also a GP trainer, appraiser and LMC rep. The views expressed above are his own. Twitter: @DrSimonHodes
Competing interests: none declared.