I’ve been worried about the NHS for a while. It’s troubling to me that it’s the new normal to be stuck for an hour trying to contact your GP, or to be on hold for a hospital appointment for eight months, or to spend the good part of the day in ER waiting rooms when you are in dire need of help. This is not the fault of doctors or nurses. The NHS has been on its knees for a long time, made worse by Tory leadership. The NHS has been underfunded and understaffed for years, with a lack of hospital beds being an ongoing problem and the threat of privatisation always looming on the horizon. Since the Tory government was elected in 2011 it has been estimated by The Health Foundation and GMB Union that NHS staff have lost thousands of pounds of real pay.
Not only that, but the public view of NHS staff has been incredibly problematic, from the media calling them superheroes (thus expecting them to be more than human) to calling them villains and blaming them for waiting times, Covid restrictions, or illness. This in turn leads to the sort of abuse that NHS staff have to face while people take their frustrations out on them. This is incredibly unjust when the people working for the NHS are just trying their best to help others whilst also suffering under current conditions.
I want to dispel these problematic views by showing what it is really like working in the NHS. Luckily, a friend of mine has agreed to just that. They are a paediatric nurse working in a critical care unit who has taken the time to answer my questions about being an NHS nurse. They have elected to stay anonymous.
Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview when I know you have a very busy schedule. Firstly, I was wondering what its been like working in the NHS in the last few years?
A rollercoaster. As I started my first job less than a year before the pandemic started I was still getting to grips with becoming a nurse when Covid-19 added another challenge. There have been highs and lows, a mixture of emotions from joy, happiness, fear, frustration, and sadness. My experience has by far been more positive than negative, although I do not really have a comparison of nursing when Covid-19 was not around.
What are the hardest things about being a nurse?
By far the most difficult part of nursing is witnessing children and families suffering deeply both emotionally and/or physically. Sometimes you feel helpless when you are unable to provide the support you feel families deserve due to a lack of time and recourses.
What are the best things about being a nurse?
Seeing the strength that families and children have. Tragedy can bring families together and the support I have seen people get from their family and friends is admirable. Working within the NHS, we are given access to people’s lives when they may be at their most vulnerable and I see this as an honour, not a burden. Nursing has given me the gift of becoming someone who is less judgmental, more understanding, patient, braver and a better communicator. I have more appreciation for everything I have.
Do you think NHS staff, nurses in particular, should get a bigger pay rise?
Of course I feel that nursing staff are underpaid, and if there was an unlimited amount of money being offered to the NHS then that would be lovely. Personally, I feel that there are services and people within the NHS who have a higher, more urgent need for funding e.g. mental health services, social work and family services, work on the surgical waiting list (which has a major backlog due to covid), etc. We also need to employ more nurses. Paying nurses more is not going to lessen how overworked we are. To lessen the chance of nurses becoming burnt out we need more nurses to help share the load.
What do you think about how the NHS is being treated by the Conservative party? (Was the clap enough?)
I definitely do not feel supported by the Conservative party. I would not say I trust them to protect and stand up for our NHS when we most need them, proof being the past few years. The NHS has survived so long because of the dedication of its workers, not because of those who want to underfund and privatise it. I have heard a lot of controversy over the clap for the NHS. Personally it was a boost for me at the beginning of the pandemic. Knowing that my family were out there clapping made me incredibly proud to be apart of the NHS. But it should not be a substitute to funding for vital recourses.
How has the mental health of nurses been effected by Covid-19?
Although I would never speak for my fellow colleges, the pandemic has definitely effected my mental health. Being separated from one of my strongest support networks (my family) who live the other side of the country was extremely difficult. Nursing takes a certain toll on your mental wellbeing, it can be draining, exhausting and at times absolutely devastating. Having your loved ones nearby to support and comfort you and to debrief with was, and still is, highly important to me. It allows me to cope with what I witness. This being taken away from me was hard (I’m sure many people both within and out with the NHS would agree).
How many hours do you work and what support do you get?
I work 13 shifts a month all 12-12.30 hours long. I get lots of peer support from colleges during difficult situations and everyday work. Other than this there are support groups also made of our peers. To be completely honest I am not sure of the other support available, as I have never explored it. I think there is a view among a lot of the NHS and nursing that you tough it out. That if you are struggling it means your not capable of being a nurse. This is a complete misconception. This is not how we view our colleges, only how we view ourselves. But this can make it hard to look for help.
What support do you think NHS staff should be getting?
We need more open discussions about NHS staff’s mental health and easy access to support when staff are struggling.
Do you think the NHS is on its way to being privatised?
I really hope not. I really hope that the views of the general public are strong enough to prevent this. I would say a large number of families would be unable to afford the lifesaving treatment their children require if the NHS becomes privatised. Privatising the NHS will discriminate against those who are less fortunate. This goes against everything we stand for. I think privatisation would be completely devastating for our country.
If the members of the public could do anything to help the NHS, what would you like them to do?
Wear your masks! I am aware this law has been lifted but personally I think it is still helpful to do so in public spaces. And please, please, please get your vaccinations!!
Thank you so much to my friend for answering these questions. If you are concerned for our NHS, there are some simple actions you can take. You can email your local MP stating how concerned you are over underfunding, privatisation and staff morale in the NHS, making them aware of public interest. You can follow We Own It and NHS Million on Instagram to keep up with their campaigns and petitions. You can vote out the Tories in the next election. And most importantly, you can keep fighting for the NHS. Keep showing up, keep talking about it, keep educating yourself on what is happening, and remember how important it is to you.