News & Views
Dr Miss England on a housing mission
Bhasha Mukherjee is a woman of many facets - a beauty queen, a health campaigner, a charity worker and a doctor. She recently put her pageant life on hold to return to the National Health Service (NHS) frontlines as a doctor at a hospital in eastern England and is petitioning the UK government to address exorbitant staff accommodation rates for medics fighting the Covid-19 pandemic. Dr Bhasha Mukherjee, who competed in Miss World 2019 as Miss England last year, was in India as part of a charity mission but decided to return to her job as a junior doctor to join her colleagues at Pilgrim Hospital in Boston, Lincolnshire, to help with the coronavirus workload pressures. The 24-year-old, who flew back from India in March, launched an online petition calling for at least a 50 per cent discount on hospital accommodation as she returned to her hospital shifts.
“I speak not only for myself but also all the medical staff that are being forced to choose such accommodation when they're working 13 hour
shifts a day almost seven days a week, hardly using the living spaces and paying prices comparative of cities like London, in a place like Boston, a small rural town in Lincolnshire,” said Mukherjee. “I am not asking for a freeby. All I ask is for hospital accommodation providers like Progress Living and others around the country to match the market! Give us a 50 per cent discount for the 50 per cent of every 24 hours we're slogging at the front line, risking a 50 per cent chance of contracting Covid-19 and 50 per cent of losing our lives,” she said.
Mukherjee, from the town of Derby in the East Midlands, has to move miles away from her family home to return to her junior doctor post. She said that previously whilst working at the same hospital she was living in a shared house with affordable rent. Now with the constraints of the pandemic, she would be potentially risking non-medical housemates and the community if she opted for similar living conditions. “Thus, I am left with no choice but to opt for hospital accommodation which is an extortionate GBP 605 minimum for doctors of my pay grade. This is double the market price for a tiny room with an uncomfortable single bed, en suite bathroom and has been reported frequently for pests and bed bugs,” she notes. “Why when there are countries like India, who are putting staff up in the empty hotels for free to incentivise and reward their hard work,” she questions.
Her petition, addressed to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Progress Living, has attracted over 700 of the 1,000 target signatures within days. Progress Living, a charitable organisation part of the UK's Progress Housing Association, said it has worked closely with the hospital's United Lincolnshire Health Trust (ULHT) to provide much needed hospital accommodation for nearly 15 years and that its rents are set in line with independent market valuations. Bernie Keenan, Deputy Chief Executive and Executive Director (Services and Growth), Progress Housing Group, said: “Like our colleagues in the NHS, our own staff are working incredibly hard, night and day, seven days of the week, to keep our accommodation available, clean and properly maintained for the increased numbers of medical staff requiring places to stay. “We will continue to work closely with the Trust and with the NHS to respond to any additional requirements they have during this very difficult period.” In her petition, Mukherjee also highlights the UK-wide shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks and aprons for frontline NHS staff, including at her particular hospital.
Mukherjee, who spent her early childhood in Kolkata and moved to the UK with her parents aged 9, speaks five languages and has a Bachelor's degree in Medicine and Surgery from the University of Nottingham. She believes her Miss England and Miss World participation connects with her medical profession as a platform to spread the message of healthy living, especially within the UK's Indian community.