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The waiting game

Can we swap the clap for the NHS for a dose of the old normal?


I need psychological help. True, I have managed to move through the gears of Covid grief, arriving, I hope, at ‘acceptance’.

But that acceptance doesn’t stretch to certain words or phrases. For example, I’d be happy never to hear again ‘Covid’ and ‘coronavirus’ (obviously), ‘the new normal’, ‘shielding’ (especially appended to ‘list’), ‘PPE’, ‘second wave’, ‘it’s a war’ and, bizarrely, ‘we have to finish the football season for the integrity of the game’ (which I’m suffering as some weird Scouse ear-worm, and has me wondering, where did this sudden pandemic of footballing integrity come from?)

I’d rather be listening to the sound of politicians’ heads being banged together at 8pm every Thursday

That’s strange enough. But here’s where I really need psychoanalysis. Because, and I realise I’m in a minority of one here, I wish the Thursday ‘Clap for the NHS’ would stop. I fear for what this says about me.

Admittedly, the first time I heard it, it brought a lump to my throat. The second time – I hadn’t realised there was to be a second time – I thought: ‘Oh. They’re doing it again.’ But now, every Thursday at 8pm, I stick my fingers in my ears and hum.

I feel awful even saying this, and have thought long and hard about possible explanations, such as:

  • Dutiful repetition of a kind act loses impact and meaning after a while.
  • The inevitable drop-off in participation over time will reach a point where it’ll just be awkward.
  • Guilt that, while I’m on the ‘front line’, the bullets are not raining down on me anything like as hard as they are on my colleagues in A&E, ITU, ambulances etc – whom, for the avoidance of doubt, I am mentally applauding constantly, not just at 8pm on a Thursday. And if they find the Thursday thing genuinely lifts their spirits, ignore everything I’m saying.
  • It might become like the cake brought every Christmas by an elderly patient for something you once did years ago, which morphs into a sort of health insurance policy.
  • I’m actually stuck in denial, and that repeated weekly reminder is like a depressing radio report that I can’t switch off.
  • I’d rather be listening to the sound of politicians’ heads being banged together at 8pm every Thursday because of the PPE fiasco (I understand that the eye protectors are incredibly clear, and perhaps that’s why I haven’t seen one).

Or maybe it’s just that you can only take so much thanks. I wish we’d spread the love a bit wider – to shop workers, carers, bus drivers and so on. Or even to people like the poor self-employed bloke I’ve just had a telephone consultation with. He needed to offload some stress which he neatly summed up with a weeping: ‘I’ve got three kids and I just don’t know how I’m going to put food on the table.’

Even then, he finished by thanking me for the great job the practice is doing. He needed that applause. Though what he got was a follow-up text with a self-help leaflet attachment, because that’s what we’ve been reduced to.

Whatever. Maybe I really am in acceptance, and I’m just reverting to curmudgeonly type. It’s the old normal. And hey, that’s real progress, right?

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. Read more of Copperfield’s blogs at

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Readers' comments (18)

  • Ah, the sound of politicians heads between the car door and frame! Vine Jones does it so well.......... keep it up Copperfield, we salute you!

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  • i don't believe i have ever received applause without distinct awkwardness. I don't intend to learn to do so now. and i'm not doing this job for applause. i signed up because i thought i might make a difference, by the time i realised i couldn't, it was too late!

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  • Intentions create a reality which evolves along with all else that changes perpetually. The evidence base which proves that perpetual hand-clapping fed directly into the ears of grieving orphans or those with PTSD has a curative effect is currently lacking, along with a psychiatric service infrastructure that could help .

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  • Seems? to be the same folk who enjoy stalking their GP et al, as enjoy clapping. May they enjoy the clapping indefinitely.

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  • The applause for the NHS is soon going to turn into a Legal Bashing.

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  • Surprised you don't have eye protectors - it would seem there is a never ending supply from our patients of varying designs but all supplied gratis and very touching. Completely agree about the clap - never heard it myself as not sure our street is a very clappy one and the pub next door is shut at 8 now!

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  • National Hopeless Service

    As a young nurse said to me 'I dont remember anyone clapping me when I was at the food bank trying to feed my family in December, January or February. Perhaps I should have gone on a Thursday?'.

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  • It’s definitely getting awkward now particularly when my neighbours are out banging pots in my direction- I think we all don’t know how to stop it. I think I’ll do the fingers in ears this week

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  • We don’t need clapping, we and all frontline occupations need proper PPI, if the Public expect us to do our jobs safely. Politicians head banging?! I will very much appreciate the sound:) Stay well people and stay sane !

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  • The clippings make me feel sick when our colleagues are dying. After Covid the same people clapping can take us to GMC

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