The NHS employs 1.7 million people in the UK and is the fifth largest employer in the world (The Telegraph 2016). It needs a vast number of skills, so the people working together in the NHS are from a variety of backgrounds and have a wide range of skills – we are a diverse bunch!
The one thing we all have in common – we are all focused on the patients: what they need to get well and leave us to go back into real life, whatever that means for them. It takes a lot of courage and commitment to completely care for someone, as any carer, whether employed or caring for a relative, will testify. As nurses, we hold the hands of people after bad news, after good news, during procedures, and when they take their last breaths. Because we do this, and with compassion, means that this is not just a job for us.
So, it’s a complicated job being a nurse, it makes many professional and personal demands of you – not just the hours and rigour (being on your feet for 12 hours, and running for most of them, takes its toll!) but the emotional memories and stories you carry with you from shift to shift. The patients and their life-stories touch you forever. It’s a rewarding but very exacting job and, recently I have been considering why I do it. This is because Mr Hunt’s treatment of the NHS and his policies have made me doubt whether I am doing a good job, whether the organisation that I treasure is worth saving – somebody constantly telling you that your efforts are not good enough will do that to you, no matter how strong your professional confidence or your willingness to help. However, a few days ago, when I helped a patient achieve something – quite a small something – the look of appreciation I received made me smile for the rest of the day. My job made me smile for the rest of the day.
Nevertheless, as nurses, these emotional rewards for helping others also bind us. While I think these moments of appreciation and achievement should be cherished, I now realise they are not enough to keep me going, even though they often make me feel better during very busy shifts. They are not enough because they are transient and they do not make up for the demeaning pay rises and the damaging comments by this government about the NHS. Do I love my job? – a resounding yes. Is loving my job enough? – a loud no. This realisation has helped me because it has galvanised me – nurses deserve better and we should be expecting more. My patients value me, why shouldn’t my employer? And the patients are the NHS. This realisation has strengthened my resolve to fight for my NHS, so I will shout louder and harder until the NHS is no longer under threat or until it has gone entirely. Either way, I will have advocated for my patients to the end and I will have a clear conscience. I will do my best for the NHS, I will advocate for it – I will not let it die.