James Grundy MP: Handshake one small step to normality
This week, I shall be returning to Parliament after the summer recess. Please note that I say recess, and not holiday, because although many MPs do tend to take a week or two of holiday during the recess, they are still working in their constituencies during this time (or should be!).
It will seem strange at first returning to a chamber without Covid restrictions, limited seating arrangements and videolink provisions.
During the entire crisis, Parliament was limited to no more than 50 MPs in the chamber at any one time, precisely one 13th of the total (650).
Mr Speaker also made it clear, rightly, that backbenchers should try to join via videolink, rather than be there in person, to minimise the risk of spreading Covid.
This did mean that the very splendid map of Leigh in my office became the backdrop of many of my parliamentary contributions during this time, however!
Parliament will be back to standard operating procedure, with all the restrictions put in place during Covid in the chamber now revoked.
The last time I spoke in the chamber under normal circumstances was in March 2020, which seems both like a geological epoch ago, and at the same time, only yesterday.
I suspect that, at first, the chamber will feel a little claustrophobic with all 650 of us back in there again.
I’m sure it will feel like normal soon enough, in the same way that people have tentatively started shaking hands again, instead of flinching away as though they were being proffered a rod of uranium.
Thankfully, social norms are starting to reassert themselves as the various restrictions fade into memory.
I must say, I missed shaking hands with people, and I’m glad we can do so again.
Metaphorically speaking, simple actions such as this returning seem like the first snowdrop peeking through the snow of the post-crisis world.
Speaking of getting back to normal, many of you will be aware that I have recently raised to public attention the issue of GP surgeries and the lack of availability of face-to-face appointments locally.
I am pleased to say I met with Wigan Clinical Commissioning Group last Friday to discuss this matter.
It seems the issue is very much a patchwork quilt, with some surgeries having no problems in providing face to face appointments if they are requested, as per Government guidance, but it is clear some surgeries are struggling to transition back from the remote model established to deal with the crisis, and are still offering telephone consultations, to the dissatisfaction of many patients.
As a result of this meeting, Wigan CCG will be looking at the data to establish which GP surgeries are struggling to return to a normal standard of service, and will work with them to bring them back in line with Government guidance to ensure patients can once again access face to face appointments on request.
We aren’t quite back to normal yet, and the process of getting there feels somewhat granular at the moment, but we are getting there, one small step at a time.
The next time you see someone you haven’t seen for a long time, be it a neighbour, an old friend, or even the postman, why not offer to shake hands? As I say, one small step at a time.
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