Preparing For A UK Pandemic
The government is struggling to manage the pandemic and deaths are rising. We were not ready for this pandemic anymore than they were ready for the 1918 Spanish flu. Indeed, over my 45 years in bereavement, planning was rarely evident. For instance, I was aware that the NHS was close to breakdown many times due to winter flu outbreaks. Overfilled mortuaries and patients dying in hospital corridors was not unknown. The fact is that as a nation we have never had sufficient resources for high death rates. Blaming Boris or this government is not fair. We all have to accept responsibility for the usual British fudge, for laissez-faire. Preparing for a UK pandemic is not what we do. The Germans, wealthier and far more inclined to dictate policy, will always win out.
In a past life, I was a Bereavement Services Manager. Whilst at Croydon, I worked with the Home Office in producing a London wide pandemic plan over 2005 and 2006. Everybody knew that it was only a matter of time before a serious pandemic overwhelmed services. The plan was based on a 17 week pandemic period with 25% of people infected and a death rate of 2.5%. With hindsight, I realise that we were not so far out.
Technology v’s people
Although technology matters, it is people, the workers, who keep the wheels turning during a pandemic. My concern at Croydon was that every department was short of staff, cut to the bone. Too few mortuary staff and pathologists, and insufficient mortuary space. Many London cemeteries had closed for burials and few local authorities in the UK had, or have, reserve burial space. How to bring in additional staff was the challenge. Ultimately, we needed to run an exercise and do some training. The money was never forthcoming and it never happened.
Preparing for a UK pandemic
We all need to ask ourselves some pertinent questions before we adversely criticise. Care homes are severely underfunded and young people cannot find psychiatric support. The disabled need buggies and there are too few refuges for battered women. Imagine some jobsworth, like me, pleading for resources for a crisis that might not happen. A massive cold store for excess bodies, a stock of masks or an excess of ventilators, none of which might ever be used. Consequently, the finance managers said no; other people’s needs are greater.
The power of words
Nonetheless, now with blood cancer my relationship with a pandemic has changed. I am a potential victim. That reminds me that when writing the pandemic plan I took great care in choosing my words. For instance, if the number of deaths overwhelmed us, the coffined bodies were to be lined out in a trench. They would be exhumed when things returned to normal and a funeral could take place. I felt that the word trench was crude so opted for a ‘collective grave’. The media, now we have such graves in London and New York, call them mass burials. The term ‘mass burial’ was used in Nazi concentration camps. Imagine how people feel when they read that their nearest and dearest has had a mass burial, as if dumped one on top of another. My planning went to waste if I end up in a mass grave!
In conclusion, before you adversely criticise the government you need to ask yourself whether you are personally ready; ready for death, that is. Is a will written, a power of attorney taken out, peace made with the estranged son or daughter? You know the answer to this. In other words, when it comes to death, nobody is ready and nobody wants to plan for the inevitable. How did that idiom go, let he who is without sin cast the first stone..? We all share responsibility for what’s happened.