We publish here a letter from a Socialist Appeal supporter and NHS nurse, who highlights the mounting pressures on healthcare staff as a result of Tory cuts and the crisis in the NHS. As the letter emphasises, the Tory government are setting the NHS up to fail, as a precursor to privatisation.
Following on from our previous letter about the devastation of mental health services, we publish here a letter from a Socialist Appeal supporter and NHS nurse, who highlights the mounting pressures on healthcare staff as a result of Tory cuts and the crisis in the NHS. As the letter emphasises, the Tory government are setting the NHS up to fail, as a precursor to privatisation.
Regardless of promises, excuses and colourful assurances from this hated Tory government, the NHS under their stewardship, is suffering a meteoric decline. The Tories under Cameron – whilst he lasted – and now Theresa May, have created a situation by which the NHS is certain to fail. They have deliberately created this crisis, so that their super-rich friends – billionaires like Richard Branson – can leap in and scoop up lucrative private contracts to supply services that the NHS no longer can; or to step in and take over the whole operation if it is privatised.
This method is pretty typical of the Tories, and their tactics are consistently indirect: first attack an adjacent service such as social services, reducing the budget to a level at which the service cannot function, and then allow it to fail those who desperately rely on it’s services.
It is easy to attack social services. The phrase sounds like social security, and a welter of lies and disinformation has been spread over a 30 year period – about dole scroungers who breed like rabbits and loaf around whilst everyone else is hard at work – and has wormed it’s way into the nation’s consciousness. The BBC and the capitalist press have been instrumental in perpetuating this lie; and as Joseph Goebbels said, “if you tell and lie – a really big lie – and keep repeating it, eventually it will be believed.” Undoubtedly there will be the occasional person who sits in idleness and brags about how they work the system; the BBC can then focus on them for use as the example by which all other social security claimants are judged. That they are simply emulating the example set by the royal family seems to go unnoticed.
With social services now bleeding from every pore, there simply are not enough financial resources in the public purse to provide for those in need. A particular need is for the elderly and the chronically ill, who may need long term palliative care or help dressing, washing, or feeding. The strictures imposed on social services budgets means that these services are no longer available except for the most extreme cases.
The consequence of this is that when a person with on-going and specialised daily care needs to come into hospital, they cannot be discharged on becoming medically fit, because there are no services available for them outside. The NHS has different criteria for judging personal care needs than to those which govern social services – the result being that our hospital beds are being taken up by an ever-increasing number of people who cannot look after themselves or live independently.
Our medical wards are becoming dumping grounds for elderly and often demented, high-dependency cases. Hospital is not the place for them, and as can be expected, many patients become angry at the necessary safety restrictions we place upon them and can become quite aggressive. Our staff are continually under attack, subject to racial or sexual abuse, and verbal abuse is pretty constant at times. One nurse was hospitalised after being attacked by a patient.
One night I found myself in a six-bedded bay, with an extremely confused and aggressive patient in every bed. Staffing levels that night were simply insufficient to cope with wandering, confused and generally non-compliant patients. After a couple of hours of attempting to persuade my patients not to wander off, interfere with other patients, or wreck the equipment, tear up the bedside notes, etc., another wild patient was wheeled in to fill the aisle between the other beds. It was not possible for the other staff to complete the round and settle the rest of the ward and look after that patient.
I have been frequently threatened with having my liver cut out, my limbs broken, castrated, strangled, etc., and one particular patient was so livid and confused that he could not adequately describe what he was going to do to me. His vigorous intonation left me in little doubt that it would be gruesome. One even built a death trap for me, by piling equipment up behind the door on her side of the room, so as to fall on me when I opened the door. She had been stealing equipment for a week, much of it heavy fluid pumps.
Despite all of this I love my job, and even though well past retirement age I will continue with it. I am not alone in this, as I know the depth of care and feeling of the vast majority of my fellow nurses. As each day passes they carry an increasing burden, and often they go home in tears because they are over burdened and were not able to give the care they felt they wanted to give.
Alongside the dismay at seeing our service rapidly disintegrate there is a growing, burning anger. Don’t mention managers, or you will hear the full range of invective. Our managers are generally seen as bumptious fools and universally hated by rank-and-file staff. When the question of a strike is raised, there is no longer the righteous condemnation we would once have heard from some less industrially-conscious staff. Now there is a brooding silence from most, and with some even saying it is high time and stressing that we need to support the junior doctors too or we’ll be next. I am well known around the hospital as a Marxist, and at one time I would have been a lone voice. Those days are long gone, and it remains now to be seen when and where the levee breaks.
The human touch
There was a 50-year-old man on the ward recently who was medically ill, but who was also very confused, ill at ease and who could be very aggressive. He was a big man and no doubt would have packed a considerable punch, if he caught you napping. We gradually learned that he was a heterosexual transvestite. For many years he had lived with his wife, who knew about his desires and was tolerant. It seemed they had been very happy together, until sadly she died.
The nursing staff responded to his anguish and rallied round to try and help him. They brought in make-up and a set of clothes, including a nice bath robe. One sat with him and taught him the secrets of good make-up. The next time I saw him, he woke in the night very agitated and confused, so I gathered up his make-up bag and steered him to a nice shower room with a mirror. He sat in there for almost an hour and when he emerged he had put on his make-up and looked perfectly serene and content. I made him a cup of tea and he went off to bed and slept soundly.
I am proud to know those other nurses who responded to that man’s needs without reservation and without judgement. That is nursing at it’s best. It is human and it does not come with a degree or a course. It is utterly priceless and it is too precious to risk by allowing the Tories to dissolve the service which breeds it.
A precious resource
In the days of Florence Nightingale and later Edith Cavell, who was shot by the Germans for helping Belgian soldiers to escape, a high level of caring was developed among the nursing community. Nursing was a relatively small concern in those early days, but with the advent of the NHS it has swelled to a huge operation employing hundreds of thousands of nurses. For all that expansion and development into an organisation of considerable complexity, the personal and emotional element of nursing has not diminished.
It is true that as academic standards have been raised and degrees have been injected into nurse training, a layer of nurses, with their eyes on management positions, no longer engage with the patients, and do not give much in the way of nursing care. They prefer to focus instead on dishing out medication and call it at that. The vast majority of nurses are hands-on and will deal efficiently, competently and sensitively with the most difficult of situations. They are a precious resource and should be recognised as such, rewarded adequately for what they do and be given the proper resources to get the job done. We are extremely service conscious, but we are not mugs and are not to be taken for granted.