Thursday brought an end to ten weeks of applause for the front – line people in the NHS, which within a short time, also included workers across the board in other public services. We recognised how much we depend on all of them for maintaining a civilised way of life for our communities and the Nation as a whole. They continued to serve, as we sheltered in our locked-down rooms. And it was meet and right to acknowledge them; and applaud we did. This turned out to become, week by week, an amazing and spontaneous out-pouring of our gratitude. This, recognising the risks involved for their own health and that of their families, as they continued to work for the welfare and wellbeing of others. So there unfolded a connection between compassion and gratitude. Here on the opposite sides of the same coin are two of the most noble expressions of our human behaviour.
Don’t you think?
Annemarie Plas, who inspired it all, was reported in Friday’s Times, (29 May 2020) “I never thought it would take off as it has.” But It did! Her insight and inspiration caught us unawares, touching some raw emotion that many felt to be a real need to come out of our sheltered lives to say, “Thank you.” And we did! We have been left an inheritance, an enduring mark of human responsiveness for the good. Her final proposal that “ the clapping” should be and annual event on the last Thursday in March. Why not!
It is quite natural that the NHS has been shaped in our minds in terms of doctors and nurses. After all, it is their presence, on the left-hand side and right-hand side of every hospital bed, that for many of us, is our experience. And for sure, in the context of the Covid19 Pandemic; here is the front line! Then, our thinking expanded to include all the people across the board, who through their own skills and professionalism, play their unique part in enabling the delivery of clinical and nursing care to the patients. A comprehensive list of the all the departments that make up the complexity of an operational hospital structure, together with an outline of their functions would take up more than several pages of this piece. In fact, it would comprise a whole hospital operational manual! Some other time maybe!
For our purposes, notwithstanding everything said previously, about celebrating interdependence, a brief focus on a Hospital Department of Engineering seems to provide a “read across” illustration of shared commitment and responsibility to fulfilling the mission of the hospital. All in it together!
The Engineering Department is the powerhouse of the hospital. To begin with, there is responsibility for the safe and secure supply of water, electricity and gas throughout the hospital, including medical gasses to the bed side. There are thousands of miles of cabling and pipework, hidden out of sight, in ceilings and under-floor reaching to every part of the hospital, monitored by valves, dials and metres in a series of plant rooms. Maintenance activities are crucial to the function of the Department to insure against the disruption of the basic services. In addition, maintaining the fabric of the building, the lifts, the incinerator, waste disposal, the stand-by generator all need constant attention. Nuff said!
In this connection, some have compared a hospital to a ship sailing on the high seas. If the engines come to a stand-still – so does the ship – without power, stranded in mid ocean and going nowhere!
Colridge’s, The Rime of the Ancient mariner, puts if poetically: –
Day after day, day after day
We stuck, nor breath nor motion
Idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Well we didn’t. The Engineering Department and all the staff in the other departments across the hospital in the great ships of the Royal Free Hospital and the Royal London Hospital, caught in the eye of the Covid storm (and featured recently by the BBC), together with the rest of the fleet of our hospitals, were enabled to continue to fulfil their mission, to save lives – Full Steam Ahead !
All in it together!
Neville Walton, Formerly CEO, The Royal Free Hospital (1978-1986)