Ellie MacDonald should be continuing her journalism degree at the University of Salford, but she moved home to Birmingham when the university closed as a result of the pandemic.
The 19-year-old still does work for her course on weekends, but since returning home she decided to turn her formerly part-time role working at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital into a full-time job.
MacDonald works as a housekeeping assistant at the hospital and is responsible for cleaning the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department daily, as well as responding to any rapid response cleaning needed in and around the department.
Due to the highly infectious coronavirus, Ellie and her co-workers have to wear masks when cleaning the department, and wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) when working in a room with an infected patient or when deep cleaning an infected area.
The teen started the job when she was 16 years old and still studying at college, according to a UNILAD report, she never considered herself to be a key worker or to have an important role within the NHS.
“I did not expect that, three years down the line, I would be given the chance to work full-time in such a demanding area whilst an outbreak is going on,” Her views have changed since the outbreak. “Since this has been going on, I have seen that I do have a very important role in the NHS.”
She works at Queen Elizabeth Hospital from 7.00am until 3. 00pm every day, and has to take extreme measures to prevent herself from catching or spreading the virus.
MacDonald arrives at work in her own clothes before changing into her uniform and washing her hands, then once her shift is over she puts her uniform into a pillowcase, ready to be washed.
After getting home from work, she must wipe her shoes and wash her hands once again to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to her family, who she lives with.
All members of the public are encouraged to wash their hands frequently in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus, but like other nurses and doctors, other hospital workers put their loved ones at risk daily by going to and from hospital, where there’s no avoiding the outbreak.
MacDonald has described her family as being ‘a huge help’ during this time, with her dad always ensuring uniforms are washed and there is food on the table for Ellie and her mother, who also works for the NHS.
The teen described the work as both mentally and physically ‘exhausting’, but noted that while it is ‘hard seeing patients so ill’, she has been encouraged by seeing her co-workers ‘pull together as a team’.
“The hospital would be dirty without us. We might not be trained in things like CPR and saving lives in that way, but we do save lives in other ways.
If I don’t clean the cubical that has just had an infected patient in, the next person… could potentially get it if we don’t clean correctly.”
The 19 year-old believes that people in her position are often under appreciated by members of the public, with some dubbing them as ‘only cleaners’. The same goes for many key workers out there, like refuse collectors and supermarket workers, for example.
These kinds of jobs are often regarded as ‘low skill’, but that is such an oversight to the amount of work that goes in to them, and the importance of that work. Unfortunately it’s taken a global issue for people to realise exactly how vital these members of society are, but at least now they are starting to get the appreciation they deserve.
“It is very important that people recognise how vital cleaners are because… we put ourselves at the same risk and we bring it home just like doctors and nurses.”
MacDonald has received a lot of support from her friends and boyfriend, and she hopes the sentiment is one that will spread throughout society.
“I think the members of the public can show appreciation by just acknowledging we exist, maybe cleaning up after themselves if they can while they are in hospital or moving a bag if we are trying to mop a floor,” she added.
Many social media users have used the internet to express thanks to those risking their health to keep the rest of the world clean, safe and fed, and although the outbreak has incited these grateful messages, hopefully the appreciation will continue long after things return to normal.
Ellie believes the outbreak has helped both herself and others realise the importance of cleaners, as without them healthcare workers would not be able to operate in sanitary spaces and, as she mentioned, patients could be at risk of contracting the virus from unclean surfaces.
“Sometimes I do feel under appreciated. But since the outbreak we have been really boosted! We feel like we have a voice and we are doing a vital job like the nurses and doctors,” she said. “I think there has been a big hype around cleaners on social media since the outbreak. I believe people’s opinions have changed and they are seeing that we do a good job and that hospitals can’t run without us.”
As the teen makes clear, every key worker – from doctors to cleaners, to supermarket workers and delivery drivers – has a part to play in keeping the world running smoothly during these uncertain times.
While medics are the ones treating patients, cleaners are the ones allowing them to do so in safe, healthy spaces, and that is not something that should be taken lightly. Every key worker deserves praise and recognition, not only during the outbreak, but for every day they do their job.