The Virus Takes its Toll
Confirmation that we are at most half way through the current lockdown is not a surprise and the right decision. The government is sticking with current restrictions for at least the next three weeks. No one envies them the difficult choices they are making, but there is a growing demand for more information and opportunities to ask questions.
The focus on making sure there are enough hospital beds, ITUs and ventilators has gone well. But there are continuing concerns about PPE and testing, and new questions about care homes and protection of all those with essential jobs that unavoidably mean close contact with the public and co-workers.
It is right to have a clear, core message: Stay at home and protect the NHS to save lives. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be trusted with more complex information. We have shown we both support and follow the rules. We should be part of the discussion going forward.
In particular, there is the ‘exit strategy’. It may be that there is no clear strategy yet beyond observing what happens in other countries and here during the next 21 days, and hoping to see a decline in new cases and deaths. If so we can be told that. If there is a plan to relax restrictions that should be made public too, so questions can be asked.
I am only too aware from the hundreds of emails I get every day how difficult the current conditions are both for those who are vulnerable and dependent on outside help, and on those whose income has dried up but are facing bills and expenses they cannot afford.
Carers who gave their lives
If we need any incentive to keep lockdown going for as long as necessary, it is in the thousands of people who have lost their lives and the dozens of care workers who have done so while saving others.
This week I heard of the deaths of four local NHS and care workers and I would like to pay tribute to them here.
Donald Suelto, 51, trained and worked as a nurse in the Philippines before coming to the UK 18 years ago. He worked at Charing Cross Hospital until his death last week. Friends described him as ‘dedicated to his job’ and ‘proud to work for the NHS’. They have set up a fundraising page to pay for his repatriation and funeral.
Sami Shousha, professor of histopathology at Imperial College had worked at Charing Cross and Hammersmith Hospitals since 1978. Professor Shousha was British-Egyptian and aged 79. His family said he ‘was very keen on going to work on his final days despite the health hazards’.
Melujean Ballesteros, originally from the Philippines, had worked at St Mary’s, Paddington since 2002. She was 60. Her son said she ‘loved her job’. Imperial said: ‘Melujean was well known across the hospital for her kindness and compassion. She made a big impact on the lives of her colleagues as well as her patients.’
Dean McKee, 28, worked at St Vincent’s care home in Hammersmith and lived in Shepherds Bush. His family said he was the ‘kindest, sweetest nicest man’.
He loved QPR and wrote ‘born blue and white’ which the club plays before home games. His family criticised those who leave home ‘for the fun of it’ and put at risk vulnerable people and those, like Dean, who care for them. The fund to pay for Dean’s funeral made its target four times over. The excess is being donated by the family to St Vincent’s.
Help is at hand
Here is a summary of some of the organisations in Hammersmith that are providing help and support.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council have set up a community aid network called H&F CAN. If you need help, please call freephone 0800 145 6095. The lines are open 9am to 7pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 2pm at weekends. You can also email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sixteen hundred people have volunteered for CAN so far, and Olympia has lent exhibition centre space for Hammersmith & Fulham Foodbank to organise distribution. To find out more visit lbhf.gov.uk/can.
Many council staff have been redeployed to help with the emergency. Many more are on the front line running essential services from home care to refuse collection. H&F was one of the first councils to react to the crisis from offering business support to enforcing social distancing. This week they have announced help for those struggling to pay council tax.
The Council has also just dispatched the first set of business grant payments to local businesses struggling during lockdown.
The Urban Partnership Group is a local neighbourhood service which supports the young and old and families with children under five in Hammersmith, Edward Woods and White City estates. Call 020 7605 0800 or visit www.upg.org.uk for further details.
H&F Law Centre can provide help and legal advice over the phone.
Citizens Advice continues to advise and help residents who are struggling with issues or questions arising from the coronavirus crisis.
Staff and volunteers are working from home to help support residents and you can visit their website cahf.org.uk or telephone on 0300 330 1162.
United in Hammersmith & Fulham is the major fundraising organisation for local charities and you can donate here: unitedhf.org/join-us/covidhf/
It has received generous donations from residents and local businesses such as Fever Tree, which has donated £10,000 to United’s coronavirus response appeal. This money has gone to help local organisations such as the Carers Network, St Albans Fulham, and The Upper Room.
Julian Hillman, one of the trustees and long-standing committee members of the Hammersmith Society has written about the excellent work being done by United in H&F.
United In H&F is now working on a project with local residents to collect their coronavirus experiences. You can find out more here.
The Upper Room has had to close its face to face services during the coronavirus outbreak, but it is still offering support by telephone and email. Further details can be found here: www.theupperroom.org.uk
H&F Foodbank is working harder than ever to support local residents in crisis. You can donate here:
Imperial Health Charity is still collecting donations to help support our local hospitals and the brilliant staff who work in them.
The Friends of Charing Cross Hospital are providing emergency funds to help hospital staff cope with the extreme pressures they are under in helping to fight this virus.
Masks, testing and staying at home
Hammersmith is badly hit by coronavirus. There are around 400 known cases in the borough at present, and 300 sufferers are hospitalised at one of the three Imperial Healthcare hospitals. Around 200 have died in those hospitals since the outbreak started, with an unknown number of further deaths outside hospital including in care homes. Imperial has more than doubled the number of intensive care beds to 148, and both they and local care homes say they have supplies of PPE.
The national hospital-only death toll of around 14,000 is one of the highest for any country. Even if the daily totals peak shortly, we need to do more to bring the spread of the virus under control. Here are three unresolved issues:
What constitutes essential work? This week HS2, the biggest construction project in Europe, was told to go full steam ahead, including at its major site at Old Oak. But adjoining that site is the main Crossrail depot: all non-emergency work on Crossrail has been halted by the Mayor of London. Why is one essential and the other not?
Who are the priorities for testing? NHS staff? Patients? Care home staff and residents? Anyone displaying symptoms and their families? All frontline workers from prison officers to bus drivers? At risk groups? The whole population? There is no consistency and no adequate regimen for any group. The target of 100,000 tests a day in two weeks’ time looks very challenging.
Should we all wear masks in public? Several European countries, New York and now the Mayor of London all say yes. The message from the government is confused. They would help an infected wearer to stop spreading the virus more than an uninfected user from catching it. That still sounds like an argument for, but is the real problem that the question is academic because there is insufficient supply for everyone?
None of this is easy, and no one expects the government to have all the answers. In fact they and their advisers have a lot of sympathy and respect as they try to manage unprecedented situations. But they make a difficult job more so by a lack of candour and open discussion.
Mourning a musical legend
I end with one more victim of coronavirus, not a carer but a brilliant musician and an international icon who lived a modest and quiet life here in Hammersmith. Ahmed Hussein – Hudeydi to everyone in Somalia and the diaspora around the world – was a singer and oud player of great skill. He died this month, days short of his 92nd birthday. A few years ago I visited him at home and was treated to a private performance, and recently I saw him collect a lifetime achievement award. He was utterly charming, wise and a master storyteller. Hudeydi is a loss to the UK, to Somalia and to the world of music.
We must stop this terrible disease before it does more harm.