'We need a long-term NHS with capacity to help'

People in Devon are being urged to get the Covid-19 vaccine

Booster jab take-up has not been as high as hoped, it is claimed - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

I recently went for my booster jab on a quiet weekday morning at my local GP surgery situated in the Ward I represent. 

I thank all the doctors, nurses and support staff at the Raleigh Surgery, for the huge amount of work they've done and are doing to facilitate walk-in appointments while keeping the rest of the show on the road. Their resilience is quite unbelievable. 

What I found out from a nurse while there was that take-up for the booster has been lower than hoped. We speculated that this could be because people didn't want to deal with unpleasant side effects during the Christmas break. What has shaken their morale is that their surgery has been under capacity to make room for booster jobs for people many of whom never came, meaning other important appointments and treatments have been delayed. 

For many workers in the NHS, the heroes of the pandemic, morale is now rock bottom - I regularly think of the usually very placid nurse I know who lives in my Ward and works at the RD&E who in a recent conversation expressed his rage following the stories of parties at 10 Downing Street and the sense that the government can do what they like. 

The sacrifice NHS workers have made, for a derisory 2% annual pay rise, is far greater than government. No wonder the NHS vacancies - they are not valued.

I am in the Labour Party because, despite their faults, they see well-funded public services and a strong economy as two sides of the same coin. They respect our public services. 

Since Labour lost power in 2010 following years of investment in the NHS, fixing the roof while the sun was shining, the Tories have cut things to the bone. We have a recruitment crisis because of the removal nursing bursaries. 

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While it's not racist to be concerned about net migration, the rhetoric used by some Tory spokespeople - the 'Go Home' vans for example - has led to good doctors and nurses emigrating. 

The Tory-led top-down reorganisation a decade ago has left GPs surgeries in crisis. Try getting a GP appointment now - it is certainly not a fault of the GPs. 

Following a series of debilitating lockdowns in which many people have lived more unhealthy and solitary lives, we more than ever, need a long-term NHS with the capacity to help us.

Although lockdowns have saved many lives, we may come to reflect on the first global pandemic for over a century and lessons we can learn. There was no digital communication or remote working during the Spanish Flu. I think of the majorly damaging effects on physical and mental health of not at least keeping some exercise facilities open throughout.

Regular social exercise is a hugely significant contributor to us maintaining a good quality of life and preventing loneliness, obesity and heart disease. 

I believe all outdoor sports, as well as indoor activities where social distancing is possible, should never have been stopped for this reason. Tennis, rugby, golf, football, badminton and group exercise classes would have been valuable to many during these difficult times, including myself. 

I have realised this since these facilites reopened. Regaining my fitness and playing my favourite sports have restored a sense of self-worth, hope and zest for life.

Many of our local sport and exercise facilities are jointly owned and funded by the council and the excellent charity Leisure East Devon. 

One of my favourite roles on the council is as vice chair of the council's LED forum where we are working to create a new strategy which makes it more affordable for local people to use our facilities and improve the ones we have. 

Unfortunately, the last local strategy was allowed to run out of date by the previous Conservative Council, voted out in May 2019 (a fact, not spin).

Now, sport and exercise is front and centre of our priorities of the local council, with a new, improved and deliverable Playing Pitch Strategy on its way too. 

Nationally, for as long as he remains Prime Minister, Boris Johnson must help us by committing to more investment into local exercise facilities and grassroots sport.