Meanwhile, in Sheffield, nurse Caitlynn Eckhardt was working her third 12-hour shift in a row.
She’d been on a Covid ward since October, and had cried after every shift she’d worked. In the week that followed, her ward lost half its patients. All died without loved ones by their side.
“One [memory] that haunts me often is holding the phone to ear of a dying man whose partner could not make it into hospital due to visiting policies. I had to listen to their final goodbyes,” she tells The Big Issue.
While Eckhardt was working frantically to help her patients, government officials were allegedly enjoying a boozy knees-up at 10 Downing Street.
If the reports are accurate, the officials had no regard for social distancing, masks nor the strict rules on social contact they’d just instructed the rest of the country to follow.
The allegations have sparked fury among the public, not least among frontline workers who were facing unbearable pressures and difficulties as they worked to keep the country moving as it was plunged into stringent restrictions ahead of Christmas.
The Big Issue spoke to frontline workers about their feelings on the Downing Street party, and what steps the government should now take to redeem themselves.
Caitlynn Eckhardt, 25, nurse on a Sheffield Covid ward in December 2020
Eckhardt was working on a Covid ward in Sheffield in December 2020, and calls the period between December 18 and December 25 “genuinely one of the worst weeks I have ever worked in my life”.
She describes the agony of seeing patients die without contact with family and friends due to the strict Covid regulations in place at the time.
“I had to say things to dying patients on behalf of their loved ones who couldn’t be there.
“I had colleagues who had numerous relatives showing up at the ward door on their hands and knees begging to come in but due to the restrictions weren’t able to. We had people get violent with us physically and verbally.”
She calls the Downing Street party “abhorrent”, saying healthcare workers have been “kicked down” by the government throughout the pandemic.
“We have been kicked down so much over the past year. Pay cuts in real terms. A weekly clap as a thanks. I can barely survive pay cheque to pay cheque.
“For them to disregard the rules… I feel more than betrayed. I couldn’t even see my family Christmas day due to work so I couldn’t see them at all over the Christmas period due to the last minute restriction changes. I’m furious,” she says.
She has called for all those involved to resign and be fined, and says she wants the Conservative party “out of power”.
“They are an embarrassment to the country”, she adds.
Luke Davies, 33, taught at a secondary school in east Sussex in December 2020, now living in Switzerland
Davies was working as a teacher during December 2020 and attempting to support students in school as well as assist with online learning.
He says he and other frontline workers have been “underpaid and criticised by the media” throughout the pandemic.
It pushed him to leave the profession and also the country.
On the Downing Street Christmas party, he says:
“The party stink from the head down and their complete disregard of the general public and those who risked everything is negligent at best and criminal at worst.
“They disgust me to the core. I don’t think I will ever get over the anger of all of this to be honest.”
Imogen Jones, working as an Infectious Diseases doctor in London in December 2020
Jones was 16 weeks pregnant on December 18 2020, and was working on call for a London Covid ward.
“It was my personal choice to work in that area [while pregnant]. The hospital would have supported me if I said I did not want to take the risk, but I didn’t want to feel that I wasn’t doing everything I could to help the effort,” she says.
“I felt worried about myself, about taking infection home to my family and also about all the patients coming in, and their families.
“Many were scared, and although we had an excellent family liaison team who did their best to keep family members updated, it was still very hard for them all to be separated when they were so ill,” Jones adds.
She calls the revelations about the Downing Street party “astounding” given the circumstances.
“It shows complete disdain for all members of society who were pulling together, all in different but equally difficult situations.
“People were trying to do their bit, and it shows the lack of respect felt that those in Downing Street didn’t also feel that they had a part to play, that they were above the rules,” Jones says.
She has called for those involved to resign, saying “people with such disdain for society should not be in Government”.
Justine Blyth-Towers, nursing assistant in East Anglia in December 2020
“I am absolutely seething with rage and anger and disgusted beyond belief,” Blyth-Towers says of the Downing Street party.
In December 2020 she was in the A&E department, “working very hard to comfort scared vulnerable people who were being admitted alone into our department.
“We were very stretched with our Covid unit and generally in the department.”
Blyth-Towers says the thought of government officials “partying” while so many scared and vulnerable people were coming into her department without family shows “utter contempt for every single person who lost family and friends and alone during that time.”
She worries that the government’s behaviour will have “public health ramifications”, with people less likely to pay attention to Covid regulations.
“I believe every person who went, [to the party] organised it, or knew about it should be sacked. They should be charged and fined and unable to hold a role in government,” she adds.
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