The NHS is getting rather a lot of press, recently, what with the planned (and called-off) doctor's strikes; student nurses and other healthcare professional students' bursaries being scrapped; a £630 million funding deficit in provider trusts; A&E waiting times as usual under close scrutiny; proposals for seven-day working (as if the NHS is a Mon-Fri 9-5 service); Mental health services cuts...I could go on...and on...but it's so depressing and demoralising, isn't it?
I have been nursing for 24 years, give or take a couple of maternity leave and career break moments. I love my job. I love being a nurse. I love working with different people every day, connecting with patients, with the aim of making their life a bit easier. Easing pain, learning to live with a condition, or finding peace and comfort at the end of life. I have worked with hundreds of others who work in the same way each day, coming in to work and leaving our own dramas and difficulties at home. I, like millions of others, listen to and contribute to conversations before our shifts start, talking about a difficult work situation, a hard conversation, conflict or more besides, mixed in with the ironic, slightly lopsided sense of humour or sardonic observations staff develop over the years.
During our shifts we are often privy to seeing the full spectrum of human nature intertwined with biology; social situations dappling the human experience; agony, pain, grief, sadness, confusion. Staff carry on regardless, putting everything down to experience, but are often affected in some way.
To me, the NHS is like a huge mirror, reflecting the health, wealth and breadth of our society. When we look at it, we see ourselves, we are reminded of our connections with it, and we replay our experiences in our minds and in our hearts.
When I look at the NHS, I see my lifeline. It helps pays my mortgage, it helps me clothe and feed my children. I see the patients and experiences which have shaped my practice and craft of nursing, the art of care and compassion which defines millions of other nurses as well as other healthcare professionals. I also see how myself or my mother may never have survived and how I may never have made it into the world without the NHS; nor would my daughter. My son would have had some significant health issues were it not for the free surgery he has had several times to correct them; my dad would not be here today if the paramedics, A&E and ITU staff had not saved him; my grandparents would not be here today if the NHS had not treated them. When I care for my patients I am grateful for everything, from the paramedics to the pharmacists, the nurses, the doctors, the OT's and the porters, the housekeeping staff, the IT department and the Estates workers. The training days which teach me and refresh me; the staff who make the meals for the patients and who give me sustenance to continue my shift. The patients, even those who are rude to me (I got called a bitch today, for example), who teach me patience, compassion, tolerance and confidence.
So it is heartbreaking to read about these proposed cuts and changes to our services, which are such a huge part of my life, which touches me and with whom I reach out to every time I go to work. I am sure that any NHS member of staff reading this will be able to relate on some level, just as any patient will be able to, as well. The NHS is the heart of our country, it is the fabric of our land. We need to care for it, protect it, repair it and show it off proudly. We need to do everything we can to respect it, honour it and celebrate it. We need to reinforce it against the tears, rips, heartache and damage.
So if you have an appointment tomorrow, treat the NHS as your best friend. Your best friend who is doing their best to carry on despite having a lot going on in its life, and is trying to carry on regardless. Your best friend who needs some support, respect and love. If you are working tomorrow, cherish every person around you, even those you don't get on with, because they are teaching you something about you, about your skills and about your ability to carry on regardless. Let's show Jeremy Hunt et.al that the NHS is our friend, our family, our colleague, our skill, our knowledge, our fear, our pain, and our success.
Nikki Harman, RGN, is a nurse working in the NHS. Nikki also teaches mindfulness and meditation with adults and children running her own private business as The Mindful Nurse and is the founder of The Inner Space Project. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org