By Robert Surcouf
SEEING reporting on Dr Ivan Muscat retiring I reflected on his pivotal role during the Covid lockdowns and what I thought were the lessons in kindness that we were learning, as a society, during those difficult times.
For our family, the sight of Dr Muscat on our screens during the lockdowns with his calming but well informed explanations provided far greater reassurance than any of the comments that came from the various ministers’ speeches at that time. We all seemed to find a new appreciation of the important role of key workers, most especially within our health service. Out on the streets we clapped and banged pans as a sign of solidarity. At the same time we went into the shops, we faced shortages but most learned to manage and resisted the temptation to hoard and we noted real actions that showed our humanity and kindness and a coming together as a caring community. Now, a couple of years later, where do we find ourselves as a community?
It was great to see many people recently recognised for their services during the Covid pandemic as well as Dr Muscat. However, while I am sure the recipients appreciated the recognition, as I am sure they did the clapping and makeshift pan drums back in the day, we are once again becoming complacent about the importance of these individuals in our society and the day-to-day challenges that they face, especially those working at the more junior levels of our health service.
We have heard much about issues of bullying within the health department and these types of issues can only truly be resolved from the top so hopefully the changes announced last week will see real focus on developing the right working environment. However, for many staff it will not only be the working environment but, like so many, the cost of living and especially the cost of housing that will make them question remaining on the Island over the next few years.
Compared to the UK, we have generally been fairer with respect to pay levels but with inflation at such a high level and the shortage of housing that can be afforded while allowing a reasonable quality of life there must be many who are starting to question how long they want to remain in Jersey. The concern is if we lose too many people it will not be easy to replace them when potential candidates look beyond the 20% tax rate and realise the true cost of living locally. At that stage what sort of medical care and services could we expect to receive? How long to wait for an ambulance, to be triaged, for a consultation or an X-ray?
Unfortunately, I had a nasty fall at home a few weeks ago (no alcohol was involved) and an ambulance had to be called in the middle of the night as I had been knocked unconscious and had a nasty cut to my forehead that would eventually need eight stitches. The ambulance was with us soon afterwards and the amazing team got to work reassuring me and then transferring me to the hospital.
While in the back of the ambulance being driven into the Hospital I had a chat with the talented paramedic who was originally from the UK where they worked for several years as a paramedic before she moved to Jersey, attracted by the offer of island life and long summer nights at the beaches. She clearly loved being in Jersey, but the housing situation was proving to be a challenge. She found it impossible to persuade former colleagues to make the move over to Jersey when they realised how much of the salary had to go on rent and that buying locally was an impossibility due to the cost of houses.
We then discussed what it was like for paramedics in the UK and she explained that issues with the NHS and short staffing had meant there were too many times when they had not been able to get to a patient in good time and even worse waiting outside an A&E with a poorly patient doing all they could for them knowing that the delay for a bed in A&E could cost that individual their life and there was nothing more that they could do. This has often been mentioned in the national news but hearing it first hand and seeing the pain in a paramedic’s eyes as they recall such tragedies does remind you that we must ensure we avoid this ever happening in Jersey.
How do we do this? Well, clapping and awards alone are not enough. These are human beings like you and me who want to enjoy their lives and in time make a home, maybe have a family, enjoy a holiday and not just live to pay their rent. I know that this could be said about so many people, those in retail, construction, hospitality, the list goes on but those working in our health service and emergency services are the difference between life and death for so many. We have to appreciate how important they are every day and not just when we are in the middle of a pandemic. I was as guilty as the next person in being forgetful and unappreciative but that bump to my head has served to remind me that we must do better. Hopefully our government can improve not only the working environment but also the home environment and quality of life for all of those who keep us safe and are there when we need it most and we the taxpayer must hold them to account to deliver on those promises.
Robert Surcouf comes from a Jersey farming family, though his mother was Spanish and moved to Jersey in the 1960s. He became an accountant and now specialises in risk and enterprise management. A father of two school-age children, he still helps organise and participates in local motorsport events and was one of the founding members of Better Way 2022 before the last election. The views expressed are his own.