10th January 2021
“These are the hands
That touch us first
Feel your head
Find the pulse
And make your bed.
These are the hands
That tap your back
Test the skin
Hold your arm
Wheel the bin
Change the bulb
Fix the drip
Pour the jug
Replace your hip.”
It’s been a while.
In fact, three weeks is the longest I have gone without blogging since the onset of the first Lock Down in March last year. There is a reason, which I will come to, but I am only mentioning it as means of an introduction to the purpose of this first Blog in 2021. Basically, this a love letter to all workers in the NHS and particularly the Nursing staff.
My NHS Experience
I had been on the waiting list for a hip replacement operation for sometime. More than once during the pandemic I had appointments cancelled for obvious reasons. The thing about arthritic hips is that they can be sore, sometimes painful and eventually will restrict movement and impact the quality of life but, guess what, ‘they ain’t gonna kill ya’! So, knowing friends who have had treatment for cancer or other potentially life threatening or acutely painful conditions delayed (particularly in those early days when hospitals were still learning how to cope with the crisis) I tried not to complain. Nevertheless, imagine my delight (with a shudder of apprehension) when just before Christmas I received a call with the offer of a short notice, cancellation slot. I duly had my pre-op tests, including Covid, did a quick few days’ isolation and turned up on Monday 21st December at Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Trauma and Orthopaedic unit. The operation was done that afternoon and by ten o clock Wednesday evening I was back home under the care and cooking of son George (many thanks mate!). Hip replacements are routine these days (three of my age mates have had one done this year alone) but they are pretty chunky operations. I recommend watching one via You Tube but not before having the operation. Watching afterwards helped me be patient and ‘Oh, that’s why my leg’s so swollen’! I haven’t really been able to get comfortable to sit at my laptop long enough for the Blog, hence my absence for a while. However, recovery and Covid confinement provide an opportunity for contemplation.
The overwhelming emotion I have experienced over the few days has been one of gratitude. In the couple of days I was on the ward news of the more virulent strain of the Coronavirus was coming in. Once at home the drastic increase in cases and hospital admissions and the rising pressure on the NHS and hospitals made it clear that operations such as mine had stopped and would do so for some time. We read now that some Trusts have had to cease even ‘Red Flag’ Cancer operations. My heart goes out to those families so affected.
Let me; at this point express my gratitude to the Doctors, Nurses and other staff on the Trauma and Orthopaedic Unit. If ever anyone needs a reminder of what an amazing institution the NHS is and the role of the people within it, a day or so on a ward will provide it……. And it appears that some people, politicians especially, do need a reminder. I was fortunate to have a senior surgeon operate and the full experience and technology of a supremely professional NHS surgical team. Then I was in the care of the ward sisters, nurses and support staff, all again, experienced and professional. We all know the NHS is not perfect: years of under-funding, some incompetent management and political interference (often in the name of ‘privatisation’) have taken their toll but I experienced nothing but the best treatment and support during my stay. (Well, apart from the ‘outsourced’ food that I have to say bordered on the inedible). Inevitably nearly all the nursing staff were women of Afro-Caribbean backgrounds – the backbone of London’s NHS in particular. How our political classes can continually undervalue and discriminate against the people of BAME backgrounds that hold our Health Service together: how NHS pay and remuneration can be allowed to deteriorate and even at this time of crisis to deny decent pay rises is beyond my comprehension. I despise those two faced Parliamentarians who ‘Clap for the NHS’ and then vote against pay increases or who said “now is not the time to discuss it.” If you need a reminder then this is the point at which the Conservative benches cheered when a proposal for Public Service Pay Rises was defeated in June 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sm1eeXnvn9Q
You might also like to be reminded that the never to be trusted Johnson and the Dickensian lick-spittle Hancock both voted to block the pay rises. It was of course Hancock who says, at a time when Nurses are proving them selves the heroes they are, is not the time to give them a decent wage. It is a matter of record that nurses starting on 24,900 pa are likely to be 60,000 in student debt as there is no remission of their tuition fees for the degree needed to become a professional Nurse.
Chatting to some of the Nursing Staff I asked if they had covered ICU units during the first peak of the Crisis last march to May. Some of them had and all had colleagues who had done stints. Talking about it was for all of them an emotional point and they all told me it had been beyond awful and affected some of them deeply….. and these were experienced professionals who would have witnessed some pretty tough stuff in Trauma units. Now, as I write this, I assume some will still be on the ward for emergencies but some will be back into Covid wards and ICU’s in support of those units. These front line NHS staff and particularly the BAME workers who statistics show are particularly vulnerable are under such strain and pressure. We can build fancy new Nightingale wards but we cannot recruit and train experienced ICU Nursing staff overnight. We need a whole new national appreciation of the NHS – not as a cash cow for a post-Brexit Bonanza for connected outsourcing corporations but for longer-term recognition of the skills and capabilities a modern health service requires so that recruitment and retention of key workers is supported by appropriate remuneration and prospects.
Conspiracy Theorists – Shut The Fuck Up
While I am at it: some of the most pernicious elements of the current Social Media-led drive for inane conspiracy theories are those that somehow deny the existence of Covid. Incredibly there are actually, as I write, small groups of nutters holding pandemic-denying placards outside some of London’s hospitals. Talking to doctors I know and from TV interviews these protests are incredibly upsetting for the doctors and nurses working to keep the tens of thousands of Covid patients alive. Do not be tempted down the dark corridors of irresponsible numb-skullery. If in doubt, find anyone who has been through the hell of a hospital-warranting Covid attack and ask them about it. Please do not give these lunatics the oxygen of publicity. Shun them on Social Media. Let us have shops and supermarkets deny them the right to entry where they put other people at risk. On public transport, if you have health reasons for not wearing a mask you are not fit enough to be out and about. Stay at Home. This is not the time to indulge fuck-wittery. Shut The Fuck Up. It is not about you. It is not about me. It is about the men and women working on the Front Line of the NHS.
Let us all do the right thing and support the NHS and all the people who work within it, in every way we can.
A Poem for Nurses
The Michael Rosen quote is from a poem he wrote for the 60th Anniversary of the NHS and it is contained in a book that was released last year in support of the NHS. Michael’s own near death experience of Covid has since been well documented and is more evidence of how real and how frightening this Virus can be. The anthology is called ‘These Are The Hands’ and the link to it is here.
I leave you with his own reading of the whole poem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vb3vKDyQ244
Finally, I was reminded how bad it can be by this poor chap Derek in the bed next to me. I managed to record it. You can hear the saintly nurse Clive at the end. * https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cGY-1dEP4SM
- Erm, are you sure about that ? Ed.
Please stay safe.
A version of the blog has already appeared in Chiswick Calendar.