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Fighting the pandemic with poetry

Michael Yates and Martin Barkley smiling at camera

A Wakefield man who survived cancer is helping Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust fight the Covid pandemic – with poetry.

Poet and novelist Michael Yates (pictured L with Martin Barkley, former Chief Executive of the Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust) was hired by Mid Yorkshire Hospitals in the summer to write poems about the fight against Covid. He says: “I talked to about 50 people – doctors, nurses, therapists, volunteers and others – at Pinderfields, Pontefract and Dewsbury hospitals, and at the therapist centre in Castleford. It wasn’t always easy because we had to keep to distancing rules.  I asked them about the satisfactions and also the toil and heartbreak of dealing with the disease which has changed our lives so much.”

Michael was previously hired back in 2006 to write poems about hospital life at another time of change – the rebuilding of Pinderfields. Then in 2019 he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and was so impressed with the treatment he received that he sent one of his previous poems as a gift to the nursing staff who had helped him.

The result was that Martin Barkley, then Chief Executive of the hospitals, hired him to write a new set of poems about the Covid crisis. “I was delighted to do this,” says Michael, “and this time I waived my fee. I just wanted to repay the NHS in some way.”

The result is a set of ten poems about the struggle. And now the Trust is planning ways of sharing them with everyone – on the Trust’s website, via social media, in the staff magazine and on hospital walls.

Martin Barkley said: “I was delighted that Michael agreed to be our Poet in Residence to capture the thoughts and feelings of a wide variety of staff and volunteers following their experience of working for more than 18 months in the context of this awful pandemic which has, and continues to, place unique pressures and demands on all of us but none more so than the staff working directly with patients. The collection of poems reflect the conversations Michael had with staff at all three of the Trust’s hospitals and one of our community teams.”

Michael's series of poems are available to read here.

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