I thought the best way to celebrate the great institution that is the NHS would be to talk about it from a personal perspective. As a child I suffered from very bad asthma, and much of my childhood was affected by acute episodes, meaning that day to day life was constantly interrupted by long episodes of wheezing and an inability to do very much. I spent far to much time in GP consulting rooms, and Hospital beds. In the mid to late 60s and early 70s the medication seemed pretty ineffective, but I always felt safe. The NHS was there, in all its glory, though slightly tatty round the edges. Towards the end of the 1970s, when i was at the peak of my rebellious teenager stage, along came the Salbutamol inhaler, which changed my life. I could breathe… and prevent acute episodes in their tracks. I took full advantage…
When I was 16, the school I was at decided that this was a perfect age for volunteering, and against my will I was made to go and work in a local care home. I appeared to be the only kid who was. The home i was sent to smelt of stale cigarette smoke, cleaning products and wee. The thought of undressing anyone, washing and toileting anyone else filled me with horror. I was a 16 year old boy in 1978!
2 weeks later I was offered a job at weekends, which paid a proper salary, not the 58 pence an hour I was paid at the superstore I hated. I worked there for the next 3 years, through 6th form and FE College retakes.
I was going to be an artist, a graphic designer; trouble was that by the time I’d finished my A Levels, I realised I had no talent. I was 19 and my career plan was down the pan. What to do? Take a year off, that what, and as well as travelling, it dawned on me that I enjoyed working, and caring for people, and I seemed to be pretty good at it. Plan B was to apply to be a Physiotherapist, Mental Health Nurse or General Nurse. The first 2 turned me down, but i was accepted for training at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in June 1982 at the age of 20. I loved it, and still do, but male nurses were as rare as Jeremy Hunt at debates. I’d been told by my Mum that the only men who went into nursing were Queer or ‘unable to do anything else’. I didn’t care. Student Nurses in those days were part of the hospital workforce, working alongside more experienced students and maybe 1 or 2 Qualified staff. It was a very different world; most staff lived in accommodation on site and would meet for drinks in the social club after shifts. Being a male amongst hundreds of young, mainly female staff had its advantages…
When I was training we were paid a salary, all be a poor one, which did not improve much on Qualification, and months salary usually only lasted 2 weeks of the month, but we got by, as a community. The ward Sister’s were Dragons who ruled their kingdoms with a sharp tongue and discipline. There was task allocation and ashtrays on patient lockers, home cooked food and an alcohol round on a Sunday. I loved it. I learnt all kinds of skills and nursing techniques, working in different environments, including Maternity, Mental Health and the Community teams.
To cut a long story short I Qualified after 3 years of training, and over the next 4 decades, worked in many different Hospitals, including 2 years in the USA, where I travelled extensively, enjoyed a salary 8 x that of the one I earned at home. But I hated the system over there, even then. I met a Welsh couple who’d lived over there for 30 years. They were uninsurable, and though in their 70s, working full time to pay for their medication after 5 MIs and Emphysema.
I worked my way up to Deputy Matron and Senior Nurse for Gastroenterology, Vascular and Emergency Surgery, surely the longest job title ever. I managed hundreds of staff in 3 different teams, and a budget of over £2m. I have worked with fantastic teams, who have worked often in very difficult and challenging circumstances, short of resources and staff, whilst maintaining professionalism and patient safety, and delivering it with a smile. I have met patients and relatives who have inspired me and shamed me, who have shown me again and again how precious life is, and how vital our NHS is. Being able to come to work and do a great job, one that often changes lives, and even sees them end, without having to, at any point, ask for payment, makes working for the NHS unique, and the relationship between staff and our patients a partnership. Any introduction of payment anywhere will destroy that contract.
Nursing has evolved and adapted. It is not the same profession I started 35 years ago. It is better. We are Specialists who teach, treat and prescribe. We have Degrees and Masters. We are Consultants and Nurse Practitioners. We are researchers and Professors.
After many years leading and managing I was made redundant 5 years ago. I was devastated, and relieved. It probably saved my life. The constant stress and the leaking of work into family life was becoming unbearable. So I decided to do something I’d always wanted to see if I could. I became a nurse in A&E. 5 Years later I’m still there, loving it.
2 years ago I got involved in the Bursary or Bust campaign, then the Junior Doctors dispute. I became an activist.
I fight with colleagues and other campaigners the Tory cuts to public services, the defunding of our NHS, and the Sustainability and Transformation Plans that will see the NHS just become a logo on Hunt’s lapel, and Richard Branson’s corporate health centres.
I will continue to fight the loss of the Bursary and free education for NHS staff which has seen a fall of 23% in applications to University, and the loss of our post education budget to pay for Nurse Associates and Apprenticeships that will see our profession become poorly educated cheap(er) labour.
I will fight the pay cap which has seen public sector workers, including Nurses lose 14% in salary leading to 40,000 nursing vacancies nationally, low morale, and staff resorting to payday loans and food banks to survive.
I will fight this Tory Government which tells Nurses ‘There is no magic money tree!’, whilst it is able to bung £1.5bn to the DUP to prop up a weak and wobbly, corrupt Government.
Save our NHS! Tories Out Now!