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Guest Blog: Why we should avoid ‘the frontline’

By Professor Brian Dolan OBE, RN

If there’s one thing coronavirus has generated almost as quickly as itself it’s the go-to metaphors of the battlefield with their imagery of war against an invisible disease. While some aspects of ‘the fight against the coronavirus’ underline the seriousness of the situation and foster a sense of solidarity, they can also create a sense of anxiety too.

There are few places where the battlefield metaphors are more vividly portrayed than in the problematic language of ‘the frontline’. It implies there’s a backline which somehow doesn’t matter and while the media uses the shorthand ‘doctors and nurses’, it’s important to remember it takes a village, including our primary, community and social care colleagues who are so crucial too. The other reason why ‘frontline’ is problematic is it changes clinicians and those who immediately support them (cleaners, catering, orderlies etc) into soldiers who may die in battle and become casualties of war. Worse, they may bring the coronavirus infection home leading to ‘collateral damage’ among their loved ones.

There are many reasons why New Zealand is drawing favourable international attention for getting coronavirus under control; evidence based policy making, going hard and going early, sealing the borders, extensive testing and contact tracing etc. However, added to this, I believe is its leaders’ carefully calibrated language, such as, ‘Unite against Covid-19’ ‘Bubble’, ‘Our team of 5 million’ etc that has reinforced the collective endeavour. Rather than war-mongering rhetoric, it’s a language of inclusivity, togetherness, humility and hopefulness. It speaks to all that is best about the spirit and mana of New Zealand. 

Together, we will come through these challenging times. There’s no frontline or backline,  there’s no battlefield or casualties of war. There’s no them, there’s only us.

Professor Brian Dolan OBE, RN is Director of Health Service 360 (UK) and Director of Service Improvement, Canterbury DHB. The views expressed here are personal.

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