I did ask the nurse whose testimony I quote here if I could name her. She was not comfortable with that, I am afraid, but I understand why and hope you do, too.
“What’s that about, then?” asked the nurse as she set about applying a fibreglass cast to my broken wrist. I followed her gaze to my West Country Voices badge.
‘It’s an online paper. Citizen journalism. Run wholly by volunteers. We tell it like it is. Political…’
I watched her face before adding,
‘We do quite a lot on the defunding and privatisation of the NHS.’
She stopped what she was doing for a moment, inhaled deeply and looked away. When she returned to her task, her eyes were bright with tears.
‘It’s my last day today.’ she said, quietly. ‘I just can’t take it any more. They’ve taken advantage of us. They’ve worked us to the bone. They’ve let us down. Let patients down.’
I remembered listening in on the Coronavirus APPG inquiry into the effects of ‘moral injury’ on health workers, and writing the session up. I gave her a quick recap.
‘That’s it. Moral injury. Look, the NHS is not perfect. There is a lot of mismanagement. Things could be run better. The bureaucracy has got crazy and got in the way of us doing the job. But we’re understaffed, underpaid. So many people went back to Europe after Brexit. Who can blame them?’
I explained that it was our view that the NHS was being deliberately run down to drive people to ‘go private’ and to justify selling off chunks of services to the healthcare giants. She nodded as I recounted the tales of two friends with cancer diagnoses, faced with the choice of taking their chances and waiting the six months to a year or paying up and having an operation pretty much straight away. Of course, they plundered their savings or borrowed/friend-funded and had the ops. If their cancer returns? Too bad.
‘Don’t be ill or poor under this government.’ I said. ‘We’re moving to a pay or die system…’
‘It’s happening already.’ she said. ‘The cuts and lack of investment mean people are at risk from missed diagnoses and treatment. We are talking many, many avoidable deaths or permanent disability. And it’s not just the ‘big’ diseases – cancer, cardio – that are killing people off. Since Covid, GP practices have stopped dressing diabetics’ ulcers. My team do it now and there’s a waiting list. A long waiting list. People are losing limbs as a result of the delays in providing something that is so basic…and some are dying from avoidable infection. It’ll get worse. It’s bad enough for us, seeing these tragedies – people whose lives are already miserable enough being utterly destroyed.
‘But the people you need to talk to are the paramedics. They really see what’s happening on the ground…and it’s horrible. They are under incredible strain. They see deprivation, squalor, starvation…Just the other day, they brought in a man who’d been struggling on with a broken leg after a fall, looking after his wife with dementia. He was too terrified by what would happen to her if he was hospitalised to tell anyone, but he was finally totally unable to cope. The couple were living in filth, ashamed and degraded . The paramedics were in tears. It’s not right.’
We’ve all heard these stories, haven’t we? But most of us are fortunate enough to have never witnessed the hardship, destitution and despair of the people who are living in third world conditions in an, allegedly, first world country.
The ideology followed by so many in this current government leads them to regard the grim fate of a growing swathe of the population as no more than collateral damage, necessarily sustained in the pursuit of libertarian objectives. We cannot allow ourselves to become numb to the human suffering and tragedy that is a political choice and we cannot stand idly by as those at the front line are traumatised and broken by what they see and the limits of what they are able to do in mitigation.
Breaking people is wrong. This government is happy to break the people working in and using the NHS so that the rest of us shrug at the seeming hopelessness of it all and agree to see it continuing to be flogged off, piecemeal, whilst retaining the brand. As soon as profit-making and taking is introduced to healthcare provision, someone will be losing out: staff or patients or both. Let’s stop the rot.
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