By Aasma Day
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People across the UK have been praising the heroic actions of workers on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic such as doctors and nurses.
The nation took part in a mass round of applause to thank carers and NHS staff by taking to their balconies and doorsteps to clap, bang pans and let off fireworks.
The celebration has now become a weekly event to highlight the country’s deepening appreciation for those putting themselves at risk: the deaths of two nurses were announced on Friday alone.
But while medics are undoubtedly fully deserving of praise for their work in tackling the pandemic, there are many others working behind the scenes in crucial roles whose efforts are sometimes overlooked.
They include hospital porters, cleaners, catering staff, security and care workers.
Without the important contribution of some of these workers putting themselves at daily risk of getting ill with the virus, critical work desperately needed would grind to a halt.
HuffPost UK spoke to some of the unsung heroes playing a necessary part during the Covid-19 pandemic.
No one wants to be treated in a dirty hospital. Cleaning is extremely important during this crisis to make sure the virus doesn’t spread.Iwo Domeracki, housekeeping supervisor at Christchurch Hospital in Bournemouth
Cleanliness and strict hygiene are always of paramount importance in a hospital setting to prevent the risk of infection – but during the coronavirus pandemic, it is even more essential.
Iwo Domeracki, housekeeping supervisor at Christchurch Hospital in Bournemouth, told HuffPost UK cleaners are the first weapon against the spread of the virus in hospitals.
Iwo, 31, who has worked in the NHS for 12 years, explained: “Cleaners are at the point where they can help stop the infection from being transmitted to another person.
“With something like coronavirus which unfortunately can survive on surfaces for some time, cleaning is more important than ever.
“Cleaners are in a crucial position and by constantly cleaning things like door handles and railings, we are the first weapon in stopping the spread of the virus in hospitals.”
In his role, Iwo does cleaning, portering, dealing with the post and some security work – duties that are all vital during this time.
He told how cleaning is in great demand at this time, particularly “terminal cleans”, which are carried out following the discharge of a patient with an infectious disease to make everything safe for the next patient.
“Every time a patient is moved, cleaners have to go and thoroughly clean everything.” he said. “You have to sterilise the room where they were in and everything has to be wiped down with bleach and be completely clean and sterile for the next patient.
“It is not just the risk of spreading coronavirus that we are trying to stop but anything else that can be transmitted. It is very dangerous to have other illnesses at the same time as coronavirus and this is why cleaning is so important.”
Iwo added: “It is really understated how important cleaning is in a hospital. No one wants to be treated in a dirty hospital.
“Cleaning is extremely important during this crisis to make sure the virus doesn’t spread and we want to make it a safe environment for patients, staff and visitors.”
Iwo has already had to transport the bodies of those who have died after testing positive for coronavirus to the hospital mortuary.
“I have had to deal with some of the patients affected by coronavirus,” he told HuffPost UK. “But if you follow the guidelines and wash your hands properly and wear the equipment when needed, you can minimise the risk to yourself.”
It has been heartening to hear the applause and goodwill of the public during the Clap For Our Carers events, he said.
But he pointed out: “This is also the public who voted for a government which keeps cutting healthcare services and doesn’t fund the NHS properly.
“The NHS is doing an amazing job and it is absurd how much people are doing such as working extra hours and coming out of retirement.
“But I think some people are greatly under-appreciated. You hear a lot about doctors and nurses and while they are extremely important, it takes so many people to run a hospital.
“All the cleaners, cooks, porters and clerks who do not always get mentioned all come in every day and do their jobs behind the scenes. It is a lot more dangerous than what they signed up for, but they are all willing to do it.”
The care workers
I do worry about the risk of coronavirus, but you can’t let it eat you up as that’s when you start panicking and making mistakes.Michele Adamson, social care worker
Care workers Michele Adamson and Katy Turner work for charity Caring Connections in Merseyside, visiting the homes of vulnerable people who are required to self-isolate for 12 weeks.
They can carry out up to 15 care calls a day. If they didn’t, some people such as the elderly or those without family wouldn’t see anyone.
Even though they risk becoming ill with coronavirus themselves and taking it back to their families, the pair told HuffPost UK they are remaining upbeat and taking the utmost precautions to prevent potential transmission.
They have even recorded a lighthearted video to highlight the work of hidden heroes and their determination to tackle the crisis head-on.
Michele, 39, a mother of three, told HuffPost UK: “A lot of the people we go to see are elderly and, often, we are carrying out palliative care.
“We have to be so careful in caring for these parents and making sure we protect them against the virus.
“But we are also leaving our own homes knowing we could potentially be walking into someone’s home and bringing the virus home to our own family.”
Without social care workers, these vulnerable people could end up in hospital, putting even greater pressure on the NHS.
Michele said: “I do worry about the risk of coronavirus, but you can’t let it eat you up as that’s when you start panicking and making mistakes.
“I am a very positive person and I have chosen not to fear it.”
Katy, 29, said her greatest fear was unknowingly passing the virus on to other patients by carrying it house to house.
To prevent this happening, the social care workers continually wash their hands or use hand sanitiser, as well as wearing protective clothing such as masks and gowns and frequently changing their uniforms.
Katy told HuffPost UK: “If I did get ill with coronavirus, hopefully I am young enough and fit enough to fight it.
“But I don’t want to get it as no one wants to be sick. And if I did get it, my main fear would be the risk to others and giving it to the vulnerable people and the incubation period.”
Paul Growney, chief executive of Caring Connections, told HuffPost UK carers such as Michele and Katy are the lifeblood of the community as they prevent social isolation and maintain people’s independence, health and wellbeing.
He said their work often goes unnoticed and more recognition is needed for this workforce as without them, the whole system falls down.
I try to talk about things that are completely different so they don’t have to think about why they are actually in hospital.Theo Samuels, hospital porter and imaging support worker
Theo Samuels was encouraged to become a hospital porter by his mum, who has been a nurse for many years.
He told HuffPost UK how he soon developed his skills and realised what a privilege the role was and what a difference he could make to patients coming into hospital.
Having a joke and some lighthearted banter can help take people’s minds off why they are in hospital – and a bit of humanity is more important than ever during the coronavirus situation, he said.
Theo, 32, worked for several years as a hospital porter in Birmingham before becoming an imaging support worker – a job in radiography – a few years ago.
However, he is still performing duties as a porter, mainly as a shift worker.
“It depends on my shift patterns how often I do it, but if I can come in and help as a porter, I will do so,” he said.
Theo says what he loves about portering is making a difference to the day of hospital patients in a small way.
“Every patient is different and I like to get to know them a bit and talk about something a bit different with them,” he explained. “I never know exactly why they are in hospital. Sometimes, it is obvious, but other times, it isn’t.
“I try to talk about things that are completely different so they don’t have to think about why they are actually in hospital. It can be anything from football to the weather or their hobbies or family.
“I have a laugh, joke and banter with them if I can. Sometimes, I get people saying they remember me because I’ve portered them before and that I was funny and brightened up their day.
“That is nice to hear and I am just doing my part in a small way.”
Hospital porters carry out multiple tasks including transporting patients to different departments, taking them for scans and X-rays, collecting samples and delivering linen.
NHS porters rarely get a mention, but they are doing an absolutely heroic job right now to keep our hospitals moving
Please spare a RT for all of them pic.twitter.com/zynTBq5OaR
— NHS Million (@NHSMillion) March 27, 2020
Theo told HuffPost UK working in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic is “extremely tough”, but that he is trying his best to remain positive and do his best for patients.
“When I see everything that is happening on the news, it is heartbreaking,” he said. “But in terms of myself, I don’t necessarily have fears for my own safety.
“It is about going out there and doing the best job I can. If I follow the rules, wear the proper equipment and constantly wash my hands, I am sure I will be fine.
“You have to keep focused on what you are doing and why you are doing it. If we can help as many people as we can, our role is priceless.”
Theo admits the Clap For Our Carers made him feel very emotional, as if the whole country were giving NHS and carers a boost.
He said: “We all care about doing our job the best we can. In the current circumstances, things do feel pressurised, but we need to focus, communicate well and remember our training.
“Hopefully, we will get through this together and there will be better days to come.”
Unison assistant general secretary Christina McAnea told HuffPost UK: “At this time of national crisis, there’s rightly been a focus on the efforts of the doctors and nurses on the frontline.
“But out of sight in every hospital, care home and local authority is a multitude of staff cleaning, catering and making sure everything runs smoothly and securely.
“Porters, administrators, care staff, refuse workers, 111 and 999 call handlers, teaching assistants, police staff and security guards are just some of the employees all essential to our public services.
“Many are low-paid and doing jobs in workplaces with the virus. Without them, our essential services would quickly grind to a halt.
“We salute these unsung heroes going above and beyond every day behind the scenes.”