‘As a doctor it’s my duty to fight for justice over healthcare workers deaths’

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  • Tonight's Clap For Carers could be the last and Dr Meenal Viz is happy with that. She wants you to know why clapping is not enough to honour the sacrifice of 237 colleagues who have so far died during the pandemic

    As a doctor, I’ve appreciated your support during Clap For Carers. But instead of clapping tonight at 8pm. I’ll observe silence in remembrance of my 237 colleagues who have died.

    At the beginning Clap For Carers was a great idea, it gave everyone an opportunity to show their support for the NHS. But fighting coronavirus isn’t the first time that has seen healthcare workers left suffering, years of negligence has led us to this point. Now, the clapping has been co-opted by politicians and it has become a distraction and what seems like a stunt to create a narrative that they truly care for the NHS.

    The reality is that the government hasn’t cared for years and that’s why we have been left to work long hours for very little pay. Why we have to leave our coats on the office floor because we don’t have any designated rooms for doctors to keep their belongings. I just hope that when this is all over, the public remembers the sacrifices we have made. I hope that the legacy of Clap For Carers means more than just thanking the NHS.

    But I’m not prepared to let the government get away with this. Although when my husband, Dr Nishant Joshi and I found out that I was having a baby (I’m due in late July) the last thing we had on our to-do list was to take the government to court. I decided that I was not going to sit in silence and watch our colleagues die.

    Meenal and her husband pose together with an ultrasound picture of their baby

    I had to do something. I launched a judicial review, a legal challenge against the government’s guidelines on PPE. Our government are insulting our intelligence as doctors by trying to convince us that a dinner lady’s apron will protect us from this highly infectious disease, and they insist that surgical masks will protect us when the science says otherwise. We are trying to engage in constructive dialogue with the government, but to date we are only meeting obstruction and bureaucracy. The only way to achieve justice is through the courts, and we must hold the government to account.

    We’re both London-based doctors, I’m 27 and my husband is 31 and until the beginning of April my husband was working on COVID wards. This was not how I imagined our lives would be during the run-up to the birth of our baby girl. I pictured us both in the garden, watching the grass grow long, listening to the elastic and rubber ping of Wimbledon on the radio, and eating strawberries and cream. Oh, and planning every twist and turn in our daughter’s future. Instead, we are spending our time isolating on different floors in the house for as long as practicable, and protecting each other from a virus that has plagued our country.

    Like many other NHS workers, my husband and I have been deeply concerned about the lack of support the government has provided to healthcare workers. One death was a tragedy, now to date 237 deaths seems to be a mere statistic. I’ve watched the death toll go up every day, I witnessed my colleagues begging for adequate protection. It all hit home in April when I learnt that a pregnant nurse died of COVID – Mary Agyeiwaa Agyapong.

    Dr Meenal Viz in action

    Mary had previously worked with my husband and was only a year older than me at 28. Is she going to be just another statistic? All I could think about was her daughter in ICU. Her mother had given her life to the NHS. How can I sit back and let her be just be another number? The government insist that we are in an ‘unprecedented situation’, but doctors know that much of this could have been avoided through thorough planning and preparation.

    In April, at 27 weeks pregnant, I stood firm outside Downing Street in stoic silence with a placard: ‘Protect Healthcare Workers’. I protested against the government’s treatment of doctors, nurses and care workers who have tragically lost their lives. More healthcare workers have lost their lives due to coronavirus than British soldiers during the Iraq War.

    I remember my last months in medical school, burying my head in my books waiting for the day I would graduate. It’s been a dream of mine to serve our public and create an impact on people’s lives. But I never imagined that I would have to do it this way.

    It is serious, and it worries me deeply that my daughter runs the risk of not having a father to grow up with. Other families have faced the same reality, and it is my civic duty to fight for justice. It is the government’s duty to protect healthcare workers, so I that I can safely watch my daughter grow up.

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