While Boris Johnson partied in the sun, I sweated in PPE, saving lives

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Kathryn Cummings/PA</span>
Photograph: Kathryn Cummings/PA

Forget Annabel’s – the place to be for the professional “partygoer” is Downing Street, especially during a pandemic. But it is invitation-only for the “in crowd” of government advisers, civil servants and elected politicians prepared to bring their own booze.

With every revelation, the nation recalls what it was doing on those nights that were filled with dancing for the Downing Street set. As people isolated, courageously risked their lives caring for the sick, or died from Covid-19, the revellers remained in their alternative universe where the wine flowed and the music played on.

In May 2020, as Boris Johnson and his wife attended a “work event” where people were invited to bring alcohol, I was using alcohol of another kind. On my hands. They were raw, blistered and painful, but at least alcohol gel sterilises hands in between the constant flow of patients. Then there was my mask, which cut ridges so deep into my face they became sores.

I recall the weather being good, as is mentioned in the Downing Street emails. I was sweating from the heat in full PPE in a contamination suite in the north Wales hospital where I worked, so hot I thought I was going to pass out.

By this time, some colleagues had already lost their lives. Homerton hospital consultant urologist Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, aged only 53, died after pleading for PPE and then contracting Covid when it was not supplied appropriately. I spoke to his son, Intisar, then 18, when his grief was still raw. He could not comprehend back then the injustice. What will he make of it now?

We had no vaccines at that point. PPE rules changed on a weekly basis relating to supply, not evidence. It was akin to going into war without a bulletproof vest.

In April 2020, Johnson became unwell with Covid and required critical care. That same month, I caught Covid from my brother, also a doctor. He is immunocompromised from a health condition, but was sent to look after Covid patients without proper PPE, despite his health risks. I spent a terrifying month caring for him.

As an ITU doctor at the time, he proned himself – lying on his front when oxygen levels dipped to try to oxygenate the base of his lungs. That experience cemented in me the importance of sticking to the emerging Covid advice.

Yet the prime minister went in the opposite direction. Now we hear of a suitcase of alcohol smuggled into No 10 for a leaving party on the eve of the funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh, where the Queen would sit, mourning alone according to the Covid rules.

These revelations set the scene for a government of diminished responsibility for people relying on it for safety. The Downing Street Christmas party coincided with the day my father was admitted to hospital with Covid, unable to breathe. He died a few days after the Downing Street revellers opened their secret Santa gifts. Dr Saleyha Ahsan is a practising emergency medicine doctor and director of the documentary Covid Critical: A Doctor’s Story

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