We were promised big post-pandemic changes – but will they ever really happen?

The government’s announcement that it’s scrapping free hospital parking for NHS staff has sparked a bigger discussion about making real societal change in a post-coronavirus world.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the prime minister and his government took to their doorsteps every Thursday to clap for our NHS and keyworkers. In fact, it was only a matter of weeks ago. 

Boris Johnson, who was taken into intensive care with Covid-19 in April, said he “owes his life to the NHS” after recovering from the virus. While health secretary Matt Hancock described staff as being the people “going above and beyond every day”.

That’s why the weekly clap was the very least that they – and we – could do to say thank you to those on the pandemic’s frontline.

It shouldn’t take a pandemic to ensure NHS and keyworkers finally get the respect they deserve for the jobs they do; but it did, for a moment, feel like there was a societal shift in motion to rectify this.

“Protect the NHS” was the key message echoed by the government at every opportunity. “Thank you NHS” T-shirts quickly became the coveted fashion item. Murals of NHS superheroes appeared on walls all over the country. 

And yet, it already feels like the changes promised with each clap have just fallen silently to the wayside. 

Today (7 July), it was announced that free hospital parking for NHS staff – which has been in place since 25 March – will only continue for “key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances” once the coronavirus pandemic begins to ease.

It comes in the same week that the PM was publicly criticised for “blaming” the devastating number of care home deaths on care home managers, saying “too many care homes didn’t really follow the procedures”.

And, after unions called for the government to deliver an early pay rise by the end of this year for NHS workers in an open letter, the health secretary has skirted around a direct response by saying they will be “rewarded“. 

But, based on his previous suggestion to hand out badges and medals to staff, a “reward” could mean anything.

New data, commissioned by healthcare regulatory bodies the Care Quality Commission and Healthwatch England, shows over two-thirds of people in England are now ready to help improve health and social care, post Covid-19.

But is the government still on the same page as us? Why is it already going back on changes made to help the nation through the ongoing pandemic?

Because so much more that has happened in the last couple of months suggests the government is flicking back to a time before coronavirus. 

It was just last month when footballer Marcus Rashford campaigned for the government to make a U-turn on its decision to stop free dinner vouchers for children in low-income families during the summer holidays.

Thankfully, with the help of the nation’s backing, he won– but it’s mind-boggling that he had to fight for this in the first place.

Then, there was the government’s decision to prematurely end the paid placements student nurses were offered during Covid-19. This meant that many students who signed up for a paid placement will now miss out on a month’s work and payment. 

And, throughout all of this, there has still been no accountability for the disproportionate ethnic minority or care home deaths. In fact, as mentioned above, Johnson has shifted the blame onto the very people looking after those who died.

Yes, these are unprecedented times, and the government was never going to get it perfect. But as it continues to swiftly drive the UK through lockdown easing and into a “new normal”, it really doesn’t feel like actions are going to be taken on lessons learned after all. 

With a second wave  predicted for the winter months, the echoing sounds of claps might only be a somber reminder or what could have been.

Images: Getty

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