A film-maker who cleans Covid wards after coming to Britain as a refugee. A pilot who supports NHS staff with tea and empathy. A midwife who writes adventure stories after delivering babies.
A new children’s book tells the stories of people who have helped keep Britain’s health and care services afloat during the coronavirus crisis, from paramedics and physiotherapists to care home staff and social workers.
They include Matt Morgan, an intensive care doctor at the University hospital of Wales in Cardiff, who says coping with the initial rush of Covid patients felt like being a first-time parent living in a one-bedroom flat after the premature arrival of triplets.
“You start parenthood feeling knackered after weeks of sleepless nights. Good intentions to paint the nursery and pack your bags have slipped by. You worry about your ability to care for more children than your hands can carry and wonder if you will survive unscathed. Even if you have enough cots and nappies, the infrastructure of your flat is not fit for purpose,” he says.
Health Heroes: The People Who Took Care of the World, published on 6 August, aims to help children make sense of what has been happening during the pandemic. Another of those featured is Carley Murdoch, an ITU nurse and senior sister for cardiac at King’s College hospital in south London.
“The saddest thing is the relatives and loved ones that never had the opportunity to say goodbye,” she says, “But that leads me to the best thing [about the job], which is the privilege of being the nurse that cares for these patients in their final hours.”
Alongside lifesaving medics, the book pays tribute to unsung heroes who have kept things running smoothly behind the scenes, such as hospital porters and cleaners.
Hassan Akkad, an award-winning film-maker and activist who came to the UK as a refugee from Syria in 2012, got a job disinfecting wards at Whipps Cross hospital in east London at the outset of the pandemic.
In a tweet that went viral, he said: “London has been my home since leaving Syria, and the least I can do is making sure my neighbours and the amazing NHS staff are safe and sound.”
The book’s author, Emily Sharratt, said: “The book conveys the diversity of our health heroes who do a much wider range of jobs than we might imagine. The NHS simply couldn’t operate without the immigrants who support it and I don’t think that gets recognised enough.”
She said despite the book’s title, the health workers she spoke to did not consider themselves heroes. “Language like this can feel like a cop-out to them when it seems to be used as a substitute for giving them the protection, rights and pay they deserve. But the idea behind the book is that children can find role models all around them.”
Others are recognised for taking on new roles during the crisis. Helen Wilson, a pilot for BA City Flyer, was furloughed after flights were grounded and volunteered for an initiative in which cabin crews set up lounges in hospitals to offer tea and comfort to beleaguered NHS staff.
“People tend to come in before or after a shift to unwind. Some want escapism and ask about the places we fly to. Others would cry and break down,” she said. “Many struggled after being drafted in from elsewhere to help. They found long night shifts in PPE very intense. They would come in and have four cups of tea in a row because they were so thirsty.”
• A donation of £1 per copy sold in the UK in 2020 will be made to NHS Charities Together.