This site is intended for health professionals only

My strangled cry against the hero worship

Whatever happened to all of the heroes? That’s something the Government and the populace will probably ask at some point in the future when the ‘New Normal’ is normal enough to have them moaning about the NHS again rather than eulogising it.

For now, though, it’s apparently the law to append the word ‘hero’ to any reference to NHS staff. I’m fed up with this almost as much as I’m fed up with The Clap, though The Clap edges it because any sexually transmitted disease does get tedious after a while.

But as The Clap peters out, the hero worship gathers pace. I can almost forgive the tabloid ‘hero’ headlines, jarring though they are, because that’s simply lazy journalism in tune with the prevailing ‘It’s a war’ theme. But when politicians trot out their obligatory soundbites about NHS heroes, it’s actually a way of the Government unheroically dodging a bullet. As many observers have already pointed out, the ‘hero’ label portrays staff as selfless individuals who have chosen to put themselves in the firing line. Whereas the reality is that we didn’t sign up to risk our lives, we signed up to do a difficult job with the appropriate resources.

So less of the unwanted, vacuous, easy praise, and more of the very much wanted, tangible and difficult-to-source PPE, please. Which obviously leaves me somewhat conflicted that, nearly eight weeks into lockdown, my practice has received from the NHS (after at least 10 contacts), the sum total of a few rolls of clingfilm-grade aprons, and is relying on PPE from a voluntary organisation called, you guessed it, ‘Hero support’.

Less of the unwanted vacuous praise and more of the much wanted PPE, please

So maybe they’re the real heroes. And maybe there are a few others. GPs volunteering to do extra shifts for NHS111, for example. They deserve a medal just for enduring the recruitment process.

And those recently retired NHS staff who’ve returned to work. That’s pretty heroic. Those of us stuck at the coalface have felt like cancer patients told we’re being ‘brave’ in their ‘battle’ against the disease – but, like them, we have little choice. Whereas recent returnees have made a noble and courageous decision to dust off their stethoscopes, even if that decision is based on the realisation that squaring up to Covid is preferable to visiting yet another garden centre (assuming they’re now open).

Or maybe the real heroes are those anti-heroes who’ve risked public opprobrium by sticking their necks out and refusing to see patients without adequate PPE, or by declining to sign up to plans for weekly visits to care homes. The disadvantage of this is that it might be tricky replying to future grandchildren asking, ‘What did you do in the great Covid pandemic, grandad/ma?’ with a defiant, ‘Well, I fought night and day to stick rigidly to my contractual obligations’. The counter argument would be that it’s even harder to give any reply at all when you’re six feet under.

But it’s all pretty irrelevant now, anyway. Because I recently read that Dave Greenfield has died from coronavirus. So that means there are no more heroes any more.

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

*Please note that this column was originally published in the June 2020 issue of Pulse