Nurses and teachers have today slammed a Tory MP who claimed they had work drinks after shifts in lockdown to justify why Boris Johnson should not resign after his partygate fine.
Some revealed how they took work breaks in their cars due to how strict they believed social distancing rules were at the time.
‘You couldn’t even have a break with someone in the same room let alone a drink after work,’ according to one nurse.
Unions said NHS staff were just happy to ‘get home, clean their uniforms, shower and collapse into bed’ after watching patients die during their shift.
The Prime Minister was fined by police yesterday for attending a party in the Cabinet room in breach of the lockdown rules he himself created.
A number of Tory MP’s leapt to Mr Johnson’s defense among them Michael Fabricant, the member for Lichfield, who told BBC yesterday that the PM acted as many nurses and teachers did during the pandemic.
‘I don’t think at any time he thought he was breaking the law… he thought just like many teachers and nurses who after a very long shift would go back to the staff room and have a quiet drink,’ he said.
Mr Fabricant repeated his comments on Sky News when questioned by presenters.
‘I said I know of some nurses – quite understandably, and I’m not condemning them – who after a long day on the wards, absolutely exhausted – this is pre vaccination being available, pre the antiviral drugs being available – then going back to the staff room and having a quiet drink,’ he said.
‘Frankly, I can’t blame them. Would you call that a party?’
Today, teachers said the comments were ‘wholly inaccurate and deeply insulting’ to the profession.
Last night, nurses union Royal College of Nursing (RCN) issued a letter condemning the comments as both ‘demoralising’ and ‘factually incorrect’.
Scores of nurses and teachers also attacked Mr Fabricant over his comments on social media.
Robert Culshaw was among nurses dismayed by Tory MP Michael Fabricant comparison of Boris Johnson’s lockdown rules breach to nurses having a drink at the end of their shift
Other nurses, like health visitor Lynn Bates, said she like many others had not only obeyed the rules but made personal sacrifices to try and keep people safe
The RCN’s general secretary Pat Cullen blasted the comments in a letter addressed to Mr Fabricant and Chairman of the Conservative Party Oliver Dowden.
‘It is utterly demoralising – and factually incorrect – to hear you suggest that our diligent, safety critical profession can reasonably be compared to any elected official breaking the law, at any time,’ she said.
Ms Cullen added that wile she was ‘unsure’ how often Mr Fabricant spent in NHS frontline services during the pandemic, but said he was mistaken.
‘Throughout the pandemic – and still certainly, now – most days nurses and nursing support workers, when finally finishing a number of unpaid hours well past shift end, well get home clean their uniforms, shower and collapse into bed,’ she said.
‘Throughout the early pandemic, this was often alone, for the protection of others – kept away from family, friends and support networks.
‘At the end of one of the many hours days and years we have worked, since the recognition of the pandemic, I can assure you that none of us have sought to hang out and ‘have a quiet one in the staff room”.
Mr Fabricant’s comments were also met with anger by teachers’ leaders.
In a letter to Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Wednesday, Paul Whiteman, general secretary of the NAHT school leaders’ union, said that his suggestion was ‘wholly inaccurate and deeply insulting’ to teachers as a profession.
‘I cannot overstate the hurt and anger these comments have caused,’ he added.
He said that during the pandemic, headteachers had followed Government guidance ‘meticulously’ and that Mr Zahawi himself had praised them for doing so.
He said that most teachers had kept to small bubbles during the pandemic and that many had eaten lunch alone in their classrooms.
Mr Whiteman said that during the pandemic, headteachers and other school staff had worked ‘tirelessly’ implementing ‘ever-changing’ Government guidance.
‘They supported the most vulnerable, ensured that children were fed and effectively reinvented how education was delivered in a matter of weeks.
‘The demands placed on them were enormous, as you know,’ he said.
He said the comments by Mr Fabricant had done ‘enormous damage’ and were ‘entirely unjustified’.
Mr Whiteman described the comments as a ‘slur on the teaching profession’.
He said he had also written to Mr Fabricant directly asking him to substantiate or retract them at once.
Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: ‘Michael Fabricant’s attempt to defend the indefensible actions of the Prime Minister and Chancellor are as insulting as they are offensive.’
‘Teachers, nurses and the vast majority of the British public followed the rules set by Boris Johnson and his Government,’ she added.
She said that NEU members had ‘gone above and beyond during the pandemic to keep the education system running and will be furious at this attempt to tar them with the same brush as law breakers in Downing Street’.
Dame Alison Peacock, chief executive of the Chartered College of Teaching, said that Mr Fabricant’s comments were ‘naive and wrong’.
‘Throughout the pandemic teachers followed the rules to the letter and did everything that was expected of them and more,’ she said.
She added that teachers had shown ‘calm professionalism’ in ‘impossible circumstances’, and that teachers had carried a ‘huge amount of anxiety’ about the potential risk working carried for their own health or that of their families.
‘Despite all of that, they did not break the rules.
‘Even when the guidance was unclear they did not break the rules,’ she said.
‘Suggesting otherwise is naive and wrong.
‘We should be thanking our teachers for everything they have done in the face of scarce resources and immense pressures.’
Meanwhile, the comments by Mr Fabricant were also met with ridicule and outrage from nurses on social media.
Many recalled how during the height of Covid NHS staff rooms were restricted to one or two people at a time and socially distanced.
And while there is no universal NHS policy on alcohol consumption at work, many trusts specifically forbid the consumption of alcoholic drinks by staff on their premises.
One intensive care nurse who works in the Oxford area, Robert Culshaw, wrote on Twitter how in just one morning alone he had to deal with four patients dying.
‘One morning during the First Wave, I had four patients die before I had my morning tea break,’ he said,
‘Did I go to the staff room and have a ‘quiet drink’? No, I had a quick drink of water and went back out, as all my colleagues did, again and again. F*** the Tories.’
Lynn Bates an NHS health visitor, a type of nurse that works in community settings, also criticised Mr Fabricant and other defenders of the Prime Minister.
Urology specialist nurse Kelly Kusinski recalled how many nurses had to sit in car or tents on their short breaks, a far cry from Mr Fabricant’s end of shift drinks narrative
Another nurse, Alison Paterson, said the rules at the time meant staff couldn’t even share a break together and branded Mr Fabricant’s defense as ‘awful’
Nicki Credland chair of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses said it seemed like those in power felt they were ‘too important’ for the Covid rules to apply to them
Dr Anna Pigott a clinical director of child health in Staffordshire recalled seeing nurses take their breaks in their cars when she helped out in ICU during one of the Covid waves
‘I didn’t break the rules. I worked through the pandemic, didn’t see my son for 18 months, waved to my 90yr old mom through the window to keep her safe,’ she said.
‘How dare the Tories ‘forgive and forget’ and even suggest nurses/teachers were drinking in the staff room.’
Urology nurse Kelly Kusinski who works in Wolverhampton said she was ‘disgusted’ by the MP’s comments, recalling how nurses could not even take breaks with each other daring the pandemic.
‘Many nurses couldn’t use a staff room due to social distancing measures,’ she said.
‘They sat in their cars alone or a freezing cold tent. Many had only a few minutes break. Utterly disgusted with todays comments.’
Nicki Credland chair of the British Association of Critical Care Nurses said Mr Fabricant’s comments and apologies from the Prime Minister were not enough considering what nurses went through.
‘Trust me no healthcare staff ‘went back to the staff room for a quiet drink’,’ she said.
‘They were scared, in full PPE, protecting their patients, families and colleagues whilst those in power felt they were too important for the restrictions to apply to them. An apology is not enough.’
Nurse Alison Paterson recalled how during the pandemic: ‘You couldn’t even have a break with someone in the same room let alone a drink after work. Awful to defend this.’
David Nicol a nurse in Swansea said: ‘I was just happy to get back to my family after watching patients die on the Covid ward.’
Another nurse, Katy, lampooned Mr Fabricant’s comparison and excuses.
Another nurse, Katy, said a nursing shift was nothing like a Downing Street party.
Responding to Mr Fabricant’s comments nurse David Nicol said at the end of a shift after ‘watching patients die’ he was just happy to get back to his family
‘Let me get things straight, doffing PPE and locating an area to have a socially distanced break on your UNPAID allocated lunch break on a 12.5hr shift then donning your PPE again and going back to work in Covid ICU was nothing like having a party at Downing Street,’ she said.
Dr Anna Pigott a clinical director of child health in Staffordshire recalled seeing nurses taking their break in their cars to ‘escape the misery’.
‘When I helped out in adult ICU nurses went to their own cars to take breaks to escape the misery. I never saw anyone cracking open a bottle of wine at work,’ she said.
The Prime Minister, along with his wife Carrie, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were sanctioned by police for breaking the law by attending events that took place while millions of ordinary Britons were obeying Covid the rules they set.
Last night Mr Johnson refused to step down insisting that at the time he had not believed he was breaking the rules – rules that he introduced.
All three are believed to have been fined £50 after police found they broke the law by attending a surprise birthday party in June 2020.
Mr Johnson may face more woe over the coming days, amid claims Sue Gray’s report into the Partygate scandal is due next week and will be ‘uncomfortable reading’. There is also speculation he may face further police fines linked to other parties.
Police revealed yesterday that at least 30 more fixed penalty notices were issued over the saga, with a spokesman for Number 10 confirming Mr Johnson, his wife, and the Chancellor were among the recipients.
Calls for their resignations swelled in the hours after the announcement, with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford and his Scottish counterpart Nicola Sturgeon among those calling for the country’s two top parliamentarians to step down.
Mr Drakeford insisted ‘you can’t be a law-maker and a law-breaker’, while Ms Sturgeon said the ‘basic values of integrity and decency…demand that he go.’
But even some of the Prime Minister’s toughest critics said ousting him when Europe faced its gravest crisis since the Second World War would be a mistake.
And the police probe was branded a farce amid claims the lunchtime birthday party lasted less than ten minutes and the Prime Minister had only salad.
It was also said that the cake was left uneaten in a Tupperware container.
In a TV interview from Chequers, Mr Johnson offered a ‘full apology’ after becoming the first serving prime minister to be punished for breaking the law.
But he insisted it ‘didn’t occur’ to him that the gathering – in the Cabinet Room on June 19, 2020, to mark his 56th birthday – was a violation of coronavirus rules.
Ministers and backbenchers rallied around Mr Johnson – however he faces the threat of further fines for attending other lockdown get-togethers.