Families from across the UK gathered in London on 16 March to pay tribute to their lost loved ones many of whom died in the line of duty while caring for patients during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The event saw heartfelt tributes delivered by BMA council chair Chaand Nagpaul and association president Neena Modi, both of whom spoke of their feelings of sadness at the loss of so many lives and their admiration and respect to colleagues who paid the ultimate price.
Giving the event’s opening address, Dr Nagpaul spoke of the need to mourn and to remember those who had been lost, while also celebrating the enormous contributions each of them had made in their professional and personal lives.
He said: ‘To the families and friends of those who died and are here with us today, we offer our profound sorrow and heartfelt condolences. We are one profession, one medical family, and we grieve for all those we have lost. We take pride in having stood alongside them as colleagues and pay tribute to the immense good they brought to the world.
‘While all these deaths have been such a huge loss to so many, we have heard the inspiring and heart-warming accounts of their lives as doctors, friends and family members. We’ve heard about their hobbies and talents beyond the world of medicine, about their lives as painters, or hill climbers, writers, or musicians.
‘Today we mourn their loss as we celebrate their lives, their passions, and their stories. Each one a unique reminder of the reason so many of us became doctors; the shared respect we have for the sanctity of life. Our memorial today is dedicated to all of them who lived to make the lives of others better.’
In her address, Professor Modi spoke about how the pandemic had left her family separated for many months while acknowledging that she could ‘never fully know the pain of those of you who have lost loved ones’.
In remembering the heroic actions of doctors and other healthcare workers during the pandemic, she added that society owed it to those who had died to ensure that the health service would no longer be starved of the resources it needed to keep staff and patients safe.
She said: ‘Today, is first and foremost about celebration of the lives of colleagues, friends, and family. In due course, there must be honest consideration of what happened, what went wrong, and above all recognition that the NHS must not be run so ragged, so close to the bone.
‘I am very glad that just a few days ago we heard that the public Covid inquiry will include within its remit, consideration of the preparedness of UK health services, their capacity, and the adequacy of their workforce. Who will care for the carers? The BMA will continue to fight for their wellbeing, because they deserve to be cared for, and because so many depend on them.’
Remembering those lost
BMA committee chairs and council members including David Wrigley, Latifa Patel, Trevor Pickersgill, Vishal Sharma, Sarah Hallett, David Bailey and Tom Black joined together in reading out the names of every doctor being commemorated.
The day also saw the unveiling of a specially commissioned stone memorial by sculptor Richard Tannenbaum within the courtyard of BMA House.
One of those attending today’s memorial was Essex GP Zehra Zaidi, whose father Dr Syed Habib Haider Zaidi, passed away in March 2020. She said that the day was an important and fitting occasion to remember her father and all those who had given their lives in the fight against COVID-19.
She said: ‘We never had a funeral for my dad, as funerals were restricted; we buried him and we went home. So, it means so much for our family to be able to mark his passing today. It’s been the first time we have all been able to say goodbye properly together.
‘So many people laid down their lives and it’s lovely that we get to remember those people in such a touching way, in a way that they deserved.’