West Midlands falls silent in tribute to NHS front line workers

The region fell silent as the UK paid tribute to front line workers who have lost their lives due to coronavirus.

Chief Executive Anthony Marsh and colleagues at West Midlands Ambulance Service's HQ in Brierley Hill. Photo: WMAS
Chief Executive Anthony Marsh and colleagues at West Midlands Ambulance Service's HQ in Brierley Hill. Photo: WMAS

People across the region pause for a minute in tribute to those in roles ranging from doctors and nurses to carers, cleaners, porters and bus drivers.

It came after a campaign from Unison, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal of College of Nursing to reward the nation's heroes.

In the West Midlands and Staffordshire, police officers, firefighters and bus drivers all paid their respects.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who returned to work yesterday, joined in to pay tribute – along with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer among others.

The Labour leader said "too many" frontline workers have died during the fight against coronavirus "and we owe them a huge debt".

In a video message, the Labour leader said: "And as we reflect today at 11 o'clock, a minute's silence on behalf of everybody who's lost their lives, we think particularly of all the grieving families that have lost a loved one.

"Nobody should put their lives at risk because they haven't got the right protective equipment. We owe it to them to make sure that we've got the right equipment, in the right place at the right time, and we will continue to press on that.

"We can't go out and clap on a Thursday and pretend that, when this is over, we can return to business as usual. Many of those on the front line have been undervalued and underpaid for far, far too long."

Mr Johnson stood in silence alongside Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill and Chancellor Rishi Sunak inside 10 Downing Street.

Afterwards, the PM tweeted: “This morning I took part in a minute’s silence to remember those workers who have tragically died in the coronavirus pandemic. The nation will not forget you.”

More than 100 NHS and social care workers have lost their lives.

Coronavirus – Tue Apr 28, 2020
Staff stand outside the Royal Derby Hospital during the minute’s silence (Jacob King/PA)

Workers in other key sectors such as transport are also among those who have died while carrying out their vital work during the pandemic.

Dame Donna Kinnair, chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said: “I am heartened to hear how many people took part in the minute’s silence to honour the memory of staff who have tragically died during the pandemic.

“We thought it was important to pay tribute publicly to those who have lost their lives to the virus, and I am proud that so many took the time to do so this morning.”

She issued an urgent call for protection of workers, saying the death toll must not be allowed to rise further.

“An even greater task now remains – to stop more joining the tragic number of those who have died. All key workers, healthcare staff among them, must be afforded the greatest protection.”

In a snapshot of how the silence was marked across the UK:

  • Flags were flown at half-mast from various hospitals including from Chorley and Royal Preston Hospitals and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s Trust’s hospitals.

  • Westminster Abbey also fell silent to “honour the sacrifice of health and care workers who have lost their lives in the service of others”.

  • Trade unionists and other supporters stood outside Sheffield town hall, carrying placards – some listing the names of those who have died. In Newcastle’s Old Eldon Square, three Unison representatives laid wreaths at the city centre’s main War Memorial.

  • Underground and bus networks in London were brought to a halt as the workforce honoured its colleagues while elsewhere some traffic stopped for the silence.

  • Outside Salford Royal Hospital in Greater Manchester, some people wiped away tears as NHS staff and Unison campaigners gathered which was followed by applause, with some passing traffic beeping horns and drivers giving thumbs-up gestures as they passed.

  • In Northern Ireland, staff in the emergency department of the Ulster Hospital formed a guard of honour in the corridor “to show solidarity with our colleagues”.

  • Senior nurse Roisin Devlin told the PA news agency: “In healthcare, teamwork is so important and, when you lose a member of that team, it is like losing a family member.”

  • In Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon marked the moment outside St Andrew’s House.

  • In Wales, First Minister Mark Drakeford and Health Minister Vaughan Gething marked the silence with other ministers at the Welsh Government headquarters in Cardiff.

Tuesday’s silence – held on International Workers’ Memorial Day – was in stark contrast to the enthusiastic, loud clapping which has become a weekly focal point across the UK.

Andrea Sutcliffe, Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) chief executive and registrar, said: “Our tribute in silence today is as important as the noisy cheering for the NHS, social care and key workers on a Thursday evening.”

The Government has faced criticism over PPE supplies for frontline workers, and Martin Mayer, the secretary of Sheffield Trade Union Council, told those who gathered in the city on Tuesday that many workers “didn’t get the protection they should have had”.

He said: “We stand here sombrely and with great sadness, but with anger in our hearts too.

“Because we could have done and should have done so much better.”

The Society of Occupational Medicine, whose members include more than 1,700 doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and technicians, has said the goal should be zero work-caused fatalities.

It is calling for the Government to prevent any further work-related deaths and for employers to carry out risk assessments so people can safely return to their jobs whenever the lockdown is eased.

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