“It’s Covid you see.” Those four wee words have become the get out of jail free card for governments, services, businesses and many others besides, who are getting away with c**p service to the public. It starts at the very top. No doubt the Prime Minister is already rubbing his hands at the prospect of being able to blame Covid for the collateral damage arising from Brexit. It was that pesky Delta variant that kept us from the sunlit uplands, emptied the shelves, vanished thousands of lorry drivers and caused a shortage of turkeys at Christmas. Covid will also be held responsible for torpedoing the Scottish Government’s chimerical flagship of closing the educational attainment gap. Continuing the nautical metaphor, it will be Covid that did as much damage to Scotland’s ferries as U-boats did to Second World War Atlantic convoys. Additionally, if it hadn’t been for Covid, we would only have to wait 10 minutes for an ambulance and elective surgery would be done on request. Aye, right.
But it isn’t just governments that play the get out of jail free card. Universities have treated their students appallingly. They have provided a skeletal service while continuing to extort as much as possible from students and their parents for accommodation and minimal tuition. I suspect my granddaughter’s recent experience at a Scottish university is not untypical. Students play elaborate games of hunt the tutor, while scheduled online sessions are cancelled or take place while the tutor finishes her breakfast. Student complaints are brushed aside because they don’t “appreciate the difficulties we’re working under”. Quite. Next month, universities will face the further challenge of a cohort of freshers who have missed nearly a year’s schooling. Despite the Government/SQA examination fudge, there is no way those youngsters will be as well prepared for their university courses as their predecessors were. Universities will have to up their game to provide the monitoring and support to avoid an unacceptably high casualty rate; just don’t hold your breath.
And so, it goes on. GPs claim to be on their knees from overwork, but that doesn’t exactly chime with patient experience up and down the country. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in many places, there is as much chance of seeing the Yeti as there is of seeing a GP. At our local surgery, it’s no longer possible to make an appointment for a face-to-face consultation with a GP via the receptionists. Afterall, one can’t have sick people cluttering up the waiting area. The first hurdle is the interrogation by the receptionist, who is probably in a public space, demanding to know, “What’s wrong with you?” Clearly, patient confidentiality has been another victim of Covid. If that hurdle is cleared, the GP will phone for further information and should you be judged not to be a time waster, an audience may be granted. In contrast, Covid has emphasised the importance and service provided by local pharmacists who have stepped into the line to fill the gaps left by retreating GPs. Pharmacists are the last remaining source of walk-in medical advice and treatment. When Covid is finally behind us, there may be an opportunity to review the role of GPs and to ask the hard questions whether there is a more cost-effective alternative to expensively trained and highly remunerated GPs. The sterling service of practice nurses and pharmacists during the pandemic suggests there may well be.
After more than a year of anti-Covid measures one would have expected big companies to have developed strategies to address slow response and poor service. Oh no, Covid has provided the ideal smoke screen for being rubbish at providing the public with a service. Phoning any major company or public service is likely to be a near stroke-inducing experience. Recorded messages assuring us “your call is important to us” and “we’re experiencing a very high volume of calls at present and recommend you visit our website, www.we’rehavingalaugh.com”, are as disingenuous as they are infuriating. If we’re being lied to, let’s move our business elsewhere.
Covid has also provided ideal cover to turbocharge Rip Off Britain. No-one is denying the pandemic dealt a body blow to the hospitality industry, but boy, are they making up for it. It wasn’t just UK hospitality that suffered, but it seems price hikes and reduced service are particularly visible here. A recent Panorama programme compared similar holidays at Windermere in the Lake District and Lake Garda in Italy. The English break cost an eyewatering £2,420, while the Italian version, came in at £802. Many of those interviewed during the programme sensed they were being ripped off. One family was quoted £800 for two nights in a mid-range Brighton hotel. Many complained about a lack of cleanliness. Many online reviews, including those on a hotel in the Aviemore area, are truly awful. At a personal level, we were recently charged £8 for a tea and a coffee in the Cotswolds. Our four-star hotel charged £15 a night for the privilege of parking the car. Requesting our room be serviced daily, appeared to be an unreasonable and unwelcome imposition. Rooms weren’t routinely serviced “to safeguard guests’ health”. Believe that and you’ll believe anything. The UK hospitality industry had better make hay while the sun shines, because travellers have long memories and this year’s experience will no doubt influence where we vacation in future. Foreign travellers will draw their own conclusions when comparing what they get for their money in the UK with what is on offer for the same or less in France, Spain and Greece. Unless we are very careful, commercial long Covid will make bureaucracy, excuse-making, slow response and poor service the new normal.
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