A Nurse Explains

I am frustrated and concerned at the actions of Dominic Cummings during lockdown and the response of the government to those actions.

Dominic Cummings reads his prepared statement on BBC News

I see no satisfactory explanation as to why he broke the lockdown rules, especially travelling with suspected coronavirus, increasing risk of spreading it to other people and other areas, the very things we are trying to avoid by staying at home as the government have advised.

I am an Outreach Children’s Nurse Specialist at a Children’s Hospice. My role involves supporting children with life limiting and life threatening conditions at home, something that is currently more key than ever. We are a clean site, so are unable to take patients with coronavirus. All of the children I support are incredibly vulnerable and many of our families are shielding, putting an intense amount of pressure on them from the beginning of this crisis. Most of the children are completely dependent on their parents for all their care and require round the clock care, day and night. They have complex medication regimes, many are unable to eat or drink and have to be fed by a tube into their stomach, many are unable even to move themselves and need frequent repositioning. They have illnesses and conditions that result in them having many different symptoms that require responsive care, including frequent seizures, breathing problems, requiring regular suctioning, pain, dystonia and many more. These can happen at any time, with parents needing to respond quickly to any changes in order to keep them safe. The pressure this puts on parents is huge as they are required to stay at home without any of the support of family, friends and normal services that would provide support limited. Even for families without coronavirus we are doing all we can each day to prevent families going into crisis and reaching a level of exhaustion where they are unable to look after their children. 

The fear of their child getting coronavirus, when even in normal times a cold could leave them seriously ill and in hospital, is very real, as is the fear of how they would provide the complex care needed for their child if they themselves became unwell. We have had to adapt the way we work to do our best to ensure they are safe whilst at the same time following the government guidance. We have had several children whose families have had symptoms of coronavirus. As soon as they showed symptoms they immediately self isolated at home – despite their child’s needs at no point has this been questioned by parents, although all are fearful of what would happen if they were too ill to look after them. We have done our utmost to support these families, with clinical advice over the phone and daily phone calls where needed, so that if they reached a point of being unable to cope we would be able to speak to local services about how to manage it.

This would be considered an emergency safeguarding situation that would need careful handling due to trying to reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. In a normal situation we would want to prevent it ever reaching that point, but these are not normal times, and our families have understood the need to manage at home if they have symptoms unless they reach a point where they are unable to, at which point we would support them with the appropriate action to ensure they and their children were safe. Despite their vulnerabilities at no point have we been able to advise families with symptoms to travel for support due to their children’s needs and their situation. Whilst parents are physically able to look after their child our role is to support them in doing that at home. That is not to say it is not an incredibly difficult situation – I cannot begin to describe how hard it is supporting our families over the phone and wishing more than anything you could give them the physical support they need. Knowing what our families go through and having first hand experience of supporting them through coronavirus makes the actions of Dominic Cummings even more upsetting. 

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Over the last few days I have re-read the guidance and advice and have found nothing that changes what I thought the guidance was and the action we have been taking. Although it says with children the measures will not always be possible it does not specify what you should or could then do. There are millions of parents with children in the UK, many who have suffered symptoms of coronavirus. I have friends I include in that, as well as families I support. If we were going by the rationale of Dominic Cummings that would mean, during the height of lockdown, they would all be allowed to travel due to the worry of if they could not look after their child, despite the severity of coronavirus symptoms being very varied and when in the majority of cases parents remain able to care for their child, and many have had to despite feeling very ill. That feels in complete contrast of the advice we have been made aware of and told to follow and if everyone had acted in that way it would potentially have had a big impact on the spread of coronavirus and adherence to lockdown. 

Whilst understanding that Dominic Cummings faced added complexities regarding his role, I can find nothing to support him travelling 260 miles with his family, with suspected coronavirus. Aside from many other factors if you are able to drive so many miles you are able to look after a child and I would have thought this would be a priority over potentially spreading coronavirus. Despite supporting children and families that are vulnerable and at high risk of requiring emergency support if their parents have coronavirus symptoms and are unable to look after them, I am still unable to see why it would be safe for them to travel to a different area due to the risk of spread and it is not something I would feel able to advise to families now. I would understand more if families required family members to come to them as this is limiting risk of spreading the virus. I feel Dominic Cummings actions were unsafe, completely disregarded the rules in place during lockdown, went against scientific and government advice and completely disregard the sacrifices and suffering people all over the country go through every day. All our instincts are to support people that need it as much as possible, particularly through intense suffering and particularly when family are involved. Each and every one of us is having to go against those instincts for the greater good, in order to get through this crisis and to save lives and protect the NHS. Dominic Cummings needs to be held accountable for his actions and regardless of whether he feels they were right his actions should not be allowed to jeopardise everything that has been done, the sacrifices people have made and everything that will need to be done going forwards to reduce the spread of the virus. The support of the public is crucial in getting through this.

Every working day I am supporting children and families going through the most difficult of times, some of whom are dying, some of whom are chronically unwell, all with complex health needs, all with life limiting and life threatening conditions and all unable to see family and friends and get the support they need and deserve. All doing the best they can and keeping to the rules by staying at home. Please take a moment to imagine being in that situation and facing this for much longer than most other people due to the vulnerability of your child and the need to protect them. Imagine seeing someone show complete disregard for these rules, let alone someone who has put this guidance and restrictions in place. I finish work late every day and come home emotionally exhausted from trying to do all I can for these families. That is nothing compared to what they go through and I will do whatever is needed to get through this crisis as quickly as possible so they can get the support they need and deserve and are able to make the most of the time they have together. We are doing our utmost every day to prevent families going into crisis. We would do anything safe to enable our families to have more support. Please do not let the impact of the actions of one individual risk lengthening the time they face being in this situation. 

I felt I had a good knowledge of what support our families were allowed. I spend every day doing this and am constantly looking for different ways to support our families through this difficult time. This situation has given completely mixed messages as to what I am able to advise families and based on the government advice we have been following and the reasoning for this I would not feel advising families to do what Dominic Cummings has done is safe and in the best interests of our country.

This story will give you some idea of the sort of actions and work involved in support during this time. 

The following piece is based on a letter the author wrote to their local MP. At their request the author has requested anonymity but in the interests of full disclosure is known personally to the producers of The Cosmic Shambles Network.

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