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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 10-Nov-16 11:51:16

We need to protect our NHS

"Whatever the differences between the NHS in 1970s and today, one thing remains the same – we need to protect it."

Sarah Beeson MBE, an author and health visitor with over 40 years of experience, is worried about the future of our much-loved institution. Here's why...

Sarah Beeson MBE

We need to protect our NHS

Posted on: Thu 10-Nov-16 11:51:16


Lead photo

Sarah in action in the 1970s

Life is certainly better for patients today who are being treated for cancer, trauma or receiving a transplant – the technology and treatment now available with the NHS was unimaginable when I wore a nurse's cape and cap. But something my readers often point out is that in both hospitals and community healthcare there was more freedom to care individually for patients.

The size of today's NHS is massive and every day thousands of patients in hospitals, clinics, GP surgeries and in the community are seen. As our population grows and people live longer so the demand on the NHS increases but that doesn't mean we should think of patients as numbers, budgets and ailments – they are people who deserve not just our care but our time – and it is often time that is in the shortest supply.

In the early 1970s, I trained as a nurse at Hackney Hospital in the East End of London. It was, like many NHS hospitals, rather old fashioned and parts of it had been The Workhouse. I recall one elderly lady getting terribly distressed as she remembered it as such, and in her confusion thought she was being sent there to die. On that ward not every nurse was kind and caring. Just like today, some were angels of mercy and some were dismissive, rude and at times cruel in their lack of compassion for their patients.

We worked on Nightingale wards organised in long rows with a desk at the top and a small office for Sister. Florence Nightingale's maxim that 'Every patient was an honoured guest,' still held true. Matron, Sisters and Charge Nurses were sometimes fearsome, but at the top of their profession, and taught us by example in the hospital and not at a university. We learnt at Nelly's Elbow and our classrooms for lectures and teaching were in a block on hospital grounds. We lived all in, room and board in the nurses' home and there was a great sense of community and belonging.

Decisions are increasingly made not in the interests of those patients but by politicians, policy-makers and managers who sometimes seem to outweigh the numbers of staff actually delivering the service.

From these strong women we learnt to be confident, capable and, most importantly, compassionate nurses. But not everyone made it. Fifty girls started with me in Preliminary Nurse Training in January 1970 and when we'd finished our training three years later and lined up in Matron's office to be handed our frilly nurse's caps only six student nurses were left, the rest having realised nursing wasn't for them and dropped out or else they'd failed part of the training and left.

By today's standards we were exploited. We worked 55 hour weeks with only one day and a half day off (not to be taken consecutively) and we had huge responsibilities. Our patients often suffered from symptoms I'm thankful we see less of today thanks to better housing, education and immunisation but there was a simplicity to the work and value placed on the nursing profession that I fear is being eroded by an under-resourced NHS that is not respected by the state that funds it.

When I started health visiting in the mid-1970s in rural Kent I had a big caseload (800 families and counting!) but I also had the freedom to give the time and care my mothers and families needed, which went far above and beyond the prescribed service.

The role that you play as a health visitor to each family is very different. Some mums need breastfeeding support, others might be going through a divorce. I had the freedom to shape my own practice around my mothers' needs. It's much harder for health visitors to do that now there are so few of them and so many families, and a lack of understanding from funders about the important work they can do.

We are losing experienced health visitors through redundancy. In March and April this year, 433 health visitors were lost from the service. There are now only 9,711 health visitors left, and last year 697,852 babies were born in England and Wales. If the cuts go ahead there will be even fewer health visitors, and the service I've worked in for over four decades will be lost. Once it's gone, there's no way to get it back.

Today's government doesn't listen to the dedicated NHS staff who are on the frontline caring for patients. Decisions are increasingly made not in the interests of those patients but by politicians, policy-makers and managers who sometimes seem to outweigh the numbers of staff actually delivering the service.

It is the principle of giving all people in the UK access to free health care at the point of need that makes the NHS one of the most important, if not the most important, service the British people have. Everyone needs the NHS and you never know when your hour of need will come. Whatever the decade, we need to protect it.

Sarah is the author of several books, including The New Arrival, chronicling her training in Hackney, and Our Country Nurse, a memoir of her time as a health visitor in a small country village. They are both published by Harper Element and available from Amazon.

By Sarah Beeson MBE

Twitter: @NewArrivalBook

durhamjen Sat 12-Nov-16 17:31:22

I so agree with this. Here is a link to a 38degrees video about the NHS and what some people see about how it is changing. Far too much privatisation now. Not enough discussion about the NHS in the media.

It was on the news today that Virgincare has taken over a swath of the NHS in Bath/ North Somerset.
It's wrong.
The footprints are removing the National from the NHS.

Last week there was a news article about the new A&E hospital in Northumberland. There are ambulances waiting outside, and queues of patients in the corridors waiting to be admitted.
The next day it was given a good rating by the CQC.
This hospital was visited and praised by Hunt a few months earlier. It's only been open a year and already it can't cope, but it is hailed as a model for other areas by Hunt.

It's all about money now.

durhamjen Sat 12-Nov-16 17:32:53

Forgot to ask, how do you suggest we protect it?

Esabeautuppence Sun 13-Nov-16 11:12:23

I do agree with a many of the sentiments written. I was a Health Visitor in the 70's, had a large caseload in inner City Birmingham & then rural Suffolk, complete contrasts, but the same needs.
Perhaps we should look at the beginnings of the NHS set up in 1948. Our needs now cannot be afforded today, why haven't other countries in the world adopted our system, it's because it's too expensive. Any Government & the General public need to be brave enough to say perhaps we should start again & see what we really need in this 21st Century.

durhamjen Sun 13-Nov-16 11:27:26

Not true, Esa.
It can be afforded. The government does not want to spend money on it. It wants its friends, and its own members to benefit from it in the form of dividends.

Andrew Lansley, who started the new bill on 1st April 2013 - when I was in hospital, by the way - now makes money from advising and lobbying for healthcare companies.
He tried to delay this bill.

because he is a lobbyist. It was passed by the Lords.

tanith Sun 13-Nov-16 11:40:56

I agree we need to protect but what can we do practically? I worked in the NHS for over 20yrs and was glad I could take early retirement as private companies were even then taking over my work. No one listened when we protested it was all about a cheaper service.

durhamjen Sun 13-Nov-16 12:11:58

Carry on protesting, Tanith.
Join your local KONP to find out what protests are happening in your area.
Find out about your local footprint.

Links on here.

Get your MP to sign up to the reinstatement of the NHS bill, which was talked out, but is going through parliament again.

durhamjen Sun 13-Nov-16 12:14:44

durhamjen Sun 13-Nov-16 23:34:41

Weownit has a campaign to email your councillors asking them to say no to the STPs.

kittylester Mon 14-Nov-16 06:45:23

Esa, it's obvious isn't it!

Im68Now Mon 14-Nov-16 08:16:12

Am I the only one who thinks that the NHS is out-dated and not really fit for purpose. Just take a look at how long we have to wait for appointments, our local DR surgery takes 2 weeks now. Not to mention the car parking fees.

I think we should start again and always try to improve and not to save money.

annsixty Mon 14-Nov-16 08:45:30

It is surely too late to start again. We need to fix the existing service, and no, I don't have the answer, but cleverer people than me must have some ideas. Particularly those who have worked in it and are so vocal with their criticism. I am now very much a user of the NHS, and have reason to be very glad it exists.

kittylester Mon 14-Nov-16 08:50:14

I think someone needs to be very brave and admit that it is unsustainable and then there needs to be a national conversation about what is important.

I have a UTI but can't get the antibiotics without seeing a gp when I'm sure a pharmacist could do the dip stick and prescribe the abs. Just a small example but indicative of not thinking outside the box.

annsixty Mon 14-Nov-16 08:56:03

One small thing, the food when I was in hospital recently and on other stays, was awful and the waste was enormous. Get some decent catering and charge for the meals. We would be buying food at home.

AlieOxon Mon 14-Nov-16 09:50:48

NHS bosses trying to keep cuts secret

annodomini Mon 14-Nov-16 09:53:52

annsixty, one of the worst meals I ever didn't eat was in that same hospital - allegedly pasta and cauliflower bake, but I couldn't tell which was which!

kittylester Mon 14-Nov-16 09:55:52


durhamjen Mon 14-Nov-16 10:23:26

Of course you have to wait a long time.
Where have some of you been over the last six years?
The government is trying to PRIVATISE the NHS. They are starving it of money, pretending they are giving it more when they want it to save £22 billion.

They are supposed to be doing these transformation plans with the public and councils knowing what they are doing. However, the 44 area plans are being hidden from the public until they have been agreed upon. This from a government that was supposed to be open.

This is from the Kings Fund.

durhamjen Mon 14-Nov-16 10:25:22

By the way, do you remember voting for a government that said no yop down reorganisation of the NHS, even though it planned to do that as soon as it got into power?

The STPs are the second top down reorganisation since that promise.

annsixty Mon 14-Nov-16 10:29:20

annoI asked for fish pie one day. It was made from pilchards of tinned Mackerel ,it was disgusting.

annsixty Mon 14-Nov-16 10:29:55

Or not of

kittylester Mon 14-Nov-16 10:35:23

I have a UTI and rang the surgery at 8 am. I was offered an appointment at 11.15 or 4.10 with which ever partner is available. That's not waiting a long time!

durhamjen Mon 14-Nov-16 10:35:31

The BBC and the Guardian both have the same report from the Kings Fund.

Proof that the government is lying about the NHS.
If you don't fight for it, you'll lose it in any form.

kittylester Mon 14-Nov-16 10:36:57

I should point out that I wasn't asked what it was for and, when I suggested that I could see a nurse instead of a gp, I was told that it was the prescribing nurses day off and everyone was booked with the GPs.

annsixty Mon 14-Nov-16 10:43:24

I have also rung my surgery to book an appt to discuss my diagnosis of osteoporosis. I was told to ring at 1:15 and a Dr will see me this afternoon.