Last week my two young children, 1 and 3 years old, came down with a cough – one of the Coronavirus symptoms. As the advice states I tried to get them tested, but the nearest available test centre was over 2 hours drive away in Telford. I drove two ill children for hours to the test site, but when we finally arrived, I was told that the whole site was closed because they’d run out of tests. This was awful in of itself. But this is then what happened next.
I tweeted about that experience and honestly things went a bit crazy for a while.
UTTERLY SHAMBOLIC – just drove over 2 hours with two ill children (1 and 3 years old) to a test site in Telford for an appointment booked for 6:30. We arrived at 6:25 to be told that the whole site was closed because they’ve run out of tests!— Steve Hyndside (@SteveHyndside) September 8, 2020
That tweet was shared nearly 9,000 times and reached over 1.5 million people. Hugh Grant shared it. And then Piers Morgan shared it as well. And this was when I got the call from Good Morning Britain asking if I wanted to come onto the show the next morning.
It was very, very, wet in the part of mid-Wales I was staying.
But from here things went really wild. I was getting a dozen answer phone messages every hour from producers and more replies to my tweet than I could read. It had the potential to swallow my whole day when my kids were ill and I was meant to be on holiday. So I agreed with my wife that I would limit it all to a few hours after which I would then go back and be with my ill kids. In that time I spoke to the BBC, ITV News, Sky News, C5 News, the i paper, LBC, Heart FM and more in back to back interviews. In retrospect those few hours were all a bit of a blur.
Steve Hyndside drove for over two hours yesterday to get his sick children tested for coronavirus, only to be told the centre had run out of tests.— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) September 9, 2020
He says “people are scared” and @MattHancock is failing to “take the responsibility he should be taking”. JJ#KayBurley pic.twitter.com/AUxpZQWCzO
To my surprise, GMB asked if I would then go back on to give an update the next morning. There were still no tests available (I was offered one near Liverpool first thing which we decided not to take) and the problem across the country only seemed to be getting worse.
Yesterday we heard from @SteveHyndside who drove two hours for a booked test, with two toddlers, to find the site shut as they had run out of tests.— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) September 10, 2020
Today he says he was offered a test 70 miles away in Liverpool, before logging back on and finding zero tests available online. pic.twitter.com/1uCpqGCmeF
What was I hoping to achieve? Well when I posted about my experience on social media and parents, carers and key workers up and down the country got in touch with me to share their experiences. None of them were good. I had an opportunity to speak up for people who were being let down by incompetence and a failing system.
I also mentioned the experience my Dad’s care home had. How they worked in a vacuum of information as they lost residents to coronavirus. I wanted to say – to anyone who would listen – that this incompetence costs lives. I wanted to be able to say to those in power how this was affecting ordinary people day in, day out.
Right now we could and should have a functioning testing and track and trace system in place. This government, this Prime Minister and his health secretary, need to take responsibility for this. Without responsibility being taken, public faith in the programme will continue to diminish. The main take-away from the existing evidence is that you NEED public confidence to ensure compliance.
Instead, people’s lived experience is that of frantically trying to book a test, only to find that there’s none – some have been told to drive 500 miles to the nearest test centre. Essential workers staying home, patients having operations cancelled and students and staff stopped from attending school – simply because they cannot get a test.
This just diminishes faith, not only in government, but in the importance of complying with the testing programme in general. I just can’t get my head round how the PM and his ministers do not see this as a failing they should be taking responsibility for. The Government’s ‘world leading’ testing system is in utter chaos and all they tell us is that they are ‘shooting for the moon’. As the British Medical Journal (BMJ) writes:
“England’s performance in implementing a routine test, trace, and isolate programme doesn’t inspire confidence for upscaling to a moonshot. Missed targets, misleading “facts,” slow results, and false bravado are everyday occurrences.3 Lucrative contracts are awarded to private companies by opaque processes, while money for patients is squeezed, as Helen Salisbury points out.4 All this without accountability or apology for mistakes and missteps.“
This is deadly serious. The number of weekly coronavirus cases in Europe topped 300,000 last week – higher than during the first peak in March. More lives are being put at risk.
That’s why I’m calling on Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson to take responsibility and urgently sort this mess out. And this is why I set up this Change.org petition. If government is willing to listen, the discontent at the metaphorical school gates is loud and easy to hear. Listening now is the first step to recovery and their only path to align themselves with the mood of the country. If they don’t do this they will loose the public and their track and trace system is destined for further failure.
This is a cost too high for all of us. If you can please do sign and share it.
Update: Here is Jacob Rees Mogg in the Commons today illustrating my concern about how out of touch this government seems to be:
The social distanced funeral and the need for primeval hugs
My Dad’s funeral was last week. It consisted of me, my four siblings and a vicar, all stood 2 metres apart in Gloucester Crematorium. The vast majority of people watched on through a live stream as the hymns and the eulogy echoed around the near empty room. The rows of empty silent pews speaking volumes about all the people who knew and loved Dad over the years who couldn’t be there.
After the funeral I have spent some time trying to answer people’s unimaginative question, “how was the funeral”? And I think this is the nearest I have come to an answer so far.
Crucially, both for coronavirus, but also for understanding what happened, there was no physical contact at the funeral at all. The vicar welcomed us with a polite nod of the head and my siblings and I all gave half smiles and weak waves back.
At the end of the service there were no hugs, no shared tears, and no sharing of marginally inappropriate anecdotes at the boozy wake. There wasn’t even the usual socially awkward British handshake (or my personal favourite, when one persona goes in for a handshake and the other a hug) from friends from Dad’s distant past. Instead there were just awkward good-byes and splodges of hand sanitizer as the next cask was wheeled in for the next small group of mourners. As we all disappeared off to our own separate lives even the warmth of sun felt inappropriate. It was a beautiful warm day and I knew the next time I would speak to my siblings it would be through a Zoom call or a shared meme on WhatsApp.
To me it felt inadequate, a poor fraction of a funeral for a man that burst at the seams of life. I wanted a festival for him, I wanted to hear first-hand about how he used to rally cars, how he spent hours preserving ancient machinery, how at one point or another he would have poured everyone there a glass of desert wine and watched expectantly for their reaction as they took the first sip.
Instead, the inadequacy compounded a hurtful sense of the inadequacy in not being able to be there to support my Dad in his final weeks of life. Instead of holding his hand in those final weeks I counted down the hours and days left of his life just 20 miles from the hospital where he rested. I still feel disproportionately grateful to the palliative care doctor who told me she sat and held his hand while she spoke to him about steam trains.
Although I answer honestly when I tell everyone “I’m fine” it is, I think, important to acknowledge that with death comes a form of psychological pain. And ritual and contact normally plays an important role is helping us all deal with that pain.
While people deal with this pain in their own personal and socially specific ways, I read that everyone uses the same regions of the brain to process this pain. To one degree or another it’s a shared experience. When we come together to mourn a death remarkably similar thought processes are occurring in all of our brains.
Crucially though, these processes are the same parts of the brain that are used to process physical pain. To deal with this, most of the world has developed a form of ritual that helps release endorphins to dampen this pain – in our society this is around the social gathering and shared embraces at a funeral.
We know that endorphins dampen, incredibly effectively, our psychological pain. That is why at funerals hugs are shared so freely when in general in British society we normally avoid that close embrace of a hug. It’s thought that these endorphins produce an opiate-like analgesic effect but just much stronger (one study suggests 18-33 times the effectiveness). We have evolved this behaviour as social creatures over millions of years. As a behaviour pattern it really isn’t dissimilar to the grooming of primates. Cuddling, with its stroking, patting and even the occasional leafing through the hair (that’s a joke) is the human form of primate grooming, and is designed to create and maintain our relationships and to soften pain. Anyone parent will know the impulsive response to hug their child equally when they fall over as when they are upset about something.
In an increasingly isolated world that has become more and more physically distanced (I had a cousin watch dad’s funeral from New Zealand), these rituals of gatherings around births, deaths and weddings are more important than ever. Sometimes a decade could pass and these are the only occasions when my extended family will have got together. These are our backstop to maintaining the loving relationships that sit as the foundation blocks to personal, family and social well-being.
That’s why I feel a funeral could and should be a time to gather and share stories of love and shared history but perhaps more importantly to be there, physically, for each other. Instead it feels like the coronavirus not only stole the last part of my Dad’s life, and indeed also the small but important role that we his children could play – to be there physically for him, but it also stole so much of the ritual that we all rely on to help us through the mourning process. In these socially distancing times, it feels like we are being asked to go against the most primeval of instincts embedded within all of us. To gather, to give and receive a hug and to share our memories.
One of the most comforting thoughts now is the promise of a gathering when “all this is over”. I know that this is unlikely to happen any time soon but the prospect of it is something to hold onto. To really say good-bye to my Dad I want warm ales on a hot day and long anecdotes about narrow-gauge railways all shared by the unusually diverse group of friends that my Dad managed to hold onto. But most of all I want a moment when everyone is deep in conversation and the booze is flowing that I can turn to someone who knew him and loved him as much as I did and hug them, and to mutter softly how much he would have loved us all being there together.
Until then I am making do with photo-albums and the incredibly lucky sensation of constantly having two children climbing over me and to be sharing this all with the most loving wife.
I know in this sense I am lucky and my heart breaks for all those in comparable situations going back to empty houses. If you are still reading this I urge you to take the time to reach out to those people living alone – I’m really OK and they might well not be. This unprecedented time isn’t just changing the basics of the modern society that we have grown so use to, but also the slowly evolved rituals that we rely on more heavily than most of us realise. There is little that can replace the importance of a hug but just letting people know you’re there for them is also important.
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Tagged as coronavirus, covid, funeral