This article was written by Iain Wilson, a nurse and member of our NHS Staff Voices group.
There’s lots to be angry at the government for when you work in the NHS - their failure to prepare for the pandemic, their failure to respond to the pandemic, the fact they blame us when it goes wrong, the staff shortages, the removal of the training bursaries, pay restraint, pensions cuts, privatisation of workplaces, blaming immigrants when we should be thanking them for working tirelessly, and so on, right down to the most recent addition to that list… reinstating car parking charges. If ever you needed a sign that the Conservative government lives and works on a different planet from us, it is this.
Throughout the pandemic, I have seen friends move into hotels so they can continue to work on the frontline and not expose their families to risk. People have been changing out of work clothes in the hospital changing rooms, then changing again in cars and on doorsteps to make sure we keep the virus from infecting loved ones. Hospitals, homes and public transport have been the tinder boxes for this wildfire pandemic, so NHS staff have been doing all we can to keep those three places as separate as possible - even though we must go into the hospital.
So it is incredible that at the same time the hospital in the Prime Minister’s constituency had an outbreak among staff, he intends to make a workforce of a million people start cramming back on trains and buses. Not only is that unsafe, but he clearly does not understand how difficult it is to get trains and buses at the right time for the early starts and late finishes. Buses are restricting the number of people allowed on and trains are reducing their timetables- which has added an hour to some of my busiest days’ journeys.
Previously, I worked at a PFI-owned hospital, miles from any train station, where the PFI company also extorted parking money from staff day and night. It felt like an extra tax and bringing that back means staff all over the country are right now wasting time, energy and money to find out how to get to and from work safely - knowing that when a second spike comes, yet more time, energy and money will be wasted by officials to work out how to give us back the ability to park near the places where we will be saving lives at our own risk.
The government is handing out hundreds of millions of pounds to businesses that promise some new app or method for healthcare while they are forcing hard-up hospitals to effectively scrounge for tips from the nurses and doctors. And the annoying thing is we all know the businesses receiving the big money won’t deliver because we’ve seen governments throw money at corporations for decades in our sector, and they just seem to make our jobs harder.
So far, the COVID pandemic has been a lesson in who you can trust and who deserves applause. The NHS was tasked with making sure we didn’t exceed capacity for intensive care. Anybody close to a hospital saw how well that was done through teamwork, ingenuity, blood, sweat and tears. Social care workers also went above and beyond with every waking moment - yet their sector has become a ‘wild west’ with no over-arching governance or support. Social care workers should never be blamed, as Boris Johnson blamed them, for the ongoing failure of governments like his to treat the sector something like the NHS, i.e. as a nationalised service
And while the NHS and social care workers were given their Herculean tasks during this pandemic, the government was trusted to make joined-up decisions about the planning, provision of PPE and social measures to limit the virus. They failed dismally. The only thing they got right was applauding the NHS and social care staff who deserved it - it’s just a shame they’ve followed it up with a kick in the teeth. Behind their closed doors, they should have been working out how to reward us, not exploit us - and how to nationalise the social care sector.