I’m a doctor – seeing anti-vaxxers storm an NHS facility made me feel sick

As NHS workers, we understand fear – we empathise with anxiety surrounding the vaccine. We should not have to tolerate abuse

Katie Rogerson
Friday 31 December 2021 14:26 GMT
Prominent anti-lockdown figure Piers Corbyn helped lead a so-called ‘freedom rally’ through Milton Keynes
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I’m a doctor – I’m also writing this while at the peak of a Covid infection. It’s a struggle – even triple-vaccinated, it is pretty unpleasant. But that’s not why it’s so hard to explain exactly the nature of the lump in my throat upon watching a group of anti-vaccine protesters storm a test and trace centre in Milton Keynes yesterday (they thought it was a vaccination centre, the fools).

They had been led on the so-called “freedom rally” through the town by Piers Corbyn, who wasn’t in the footage – but he was pictured on the rally along the way, including addressing a crowd who “forced their way” into the Milton Keynes Theatre.

It was hard for me to watch the group blazing though the site, causing chaos. I was reminded of some sort of home horror movie. It is shakily-filmed, confusing – and peaks with the grotesque smile of a woman who plays to the camera as she proudly steals medical supplies (later found dumped in a bin).

There is shouting, yobbish singing and baseless accusations towards NHS staff of “murder” and “genocide”. The NHS teams – my colleagues – were forced to hide. In some ways, I am glad I didn’t have to see them in person, being victimised. I am not sure my fragile pandemic self could have handled it at all.

As NHS workers, we understand fear. We understand that misinformation is rife, making these times scarier than they need to be. We empathise with anxiety surrounding the vaccine.

What we do not understand though is mockery, kicking people when they are down (in this case the same people who are working hard to protect you). And regarding all this conspiracy nonsense – ain’t nobody got time for that, we are too busy trying to keep you alive.

It gets tiresome having to rise above it all – that isn’t what we signed up to do. It is so daft that we are having to force your safety. You are so lucky. Most of the world would love to be in your position. Shouldn’t you take it graciously? Shouldn’t you be happy that such a wide team are trying to protect you?

Fine – if you don’t want the vaccine, don’t get it. Although, it is a real chance to be a team member, getting vaccinated to protect the fragile and an overburdened NHS.

Medicine is all about being non-judgemental, but sometimes this isn’t easy. I always remember my friend telling me how he struggled to simultaneously treat both the victim of domestic abuse (struggling to survive her injuries) as well as the perpetrator, who presented with a minor cut on his knuckles after repeatedly punching her.

My pal struggled not to judge in order to give good and equivalent care to both. As the years have passed by, I have since been met with my own similar crosses to bear. Yet the great thing about the NHS is we will always treat you – and we won’t ask for anything in return. We shouldn’t have to ask. What about being gracious and grown up?

Surely you should be proud to respect another human being? Not least, one who is fighting for you, and giving over their skills and talents over to helping you? And, surely, in these times you would be keen for input from a genuine expert? A person who studied all this stuff for years, so you wouldn’t have to try and make it up in 10 minutes?

Doctors and other frontline medical staff should not have to tolerate abuse. We suffer microaggressions every day, as the frustrations of pandemic life grow and grow. We don’t need you fuelling it. Give us a break for once – just one easy day in two years.

If you understood how dangerous these times had been, you wouldn’t act like this. No – you have a responsibility to do better. To source good quality information before you throw your toys out of the pram.

Worry, anxiety and respectful disagreement is fine – but carry it out with dignity and respect. Not the playground behaviour shown here. This kind of footage in Milton Keynes simply shows abuse. Abuse of a system, and abuse of a workforce.

In the NHS we are great at “rallying”. The “Blitz spirit” approach is as well-rehearsed to us as a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance sequence. Now though, my colleagues have completely lost their sparkle. I, for one, worry about a huge exodus from the NHS – there will be no one left at the helm.

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And footage like this tells us we are not valued. It gets harder to park this sort of behaviour in the, “ignore-the-idiots-for-they-know-not-what-they-do” mental filing cabinet.

We never claimed to be heroes – that was a narrative placed on us by others. What we are, though, is a bunch of humans doing their best. And that is how we deserve to be treated.

What we have seen happen in Milton Keynes is a disgrace. Those responsible haven’t encouraged debate, they have simply caused chaos and upset.

If you were involved: maybe, one day, you will watch this footage back and see it as we do – starkly and deeply unimpressive.

Dr Katie Rogerson is a doctor at a London hospital and co-director of campaign group NHS Million

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