Nurse of the Year

Justine Whittaker was annouced as “Nurse of the Year” by the Nursing Times only last February. Today it is announced that she is leaving the NHS because she is “fed up with cuts and reforms.”

She complains that she is spending more time filling in paperwork than working with patients. She recognises that cuts have reduced the overall quality of care – outside the “target” areas.

I sent out an email yesterday to Speech and Language Therapists across the country asking for their experiences because I had been asked by Unite to talk to the BBC. I’ll post a more detailed summary of the responses tomorrow, but it is clear that Justine’s complaints are echoed by virtually every SLT who replied. Whatever Gordon Brown says, there is a crisis in morale in the NHS.

Brown said in the Commons today that he had appointed Darzi to listen to health workers. Darzi would be travelling around the country listening. It’s a funny sort of listening when you have already decided what the way forward is! Brown has already indicated that Darzi’s reorganisation plan for London will be rolled out nationally.

While we can all identify with Justine, I don’t believe her solution – to go private – is the right one. I know it looks attractive. Many SLTs – sick and tired with the reorganisations that have undervalued clinical skills – have talked about doing the same. In the end though, this just helps the Government to push through their privatisation plans.

If the “market” is allowed to become dominant in health provision, then our wages, our working conditions and our clinical practice are threatened whether we work in the private or public sectors. In the short term a few of us may do OK. But with the Government’s commissioning plans , we will all in the future face having to compete – with bids going to the lowest cost provider. It was called Best Value in local government, and everyone suffered. In the NHS, we know that our privatised cleaning staff are worse off than if they had remained NHS employees, and we know their employers cut corners to increase profits.

If going private were the solution then the US must be the model. Angela Gorman, an NHS nurse in Unison, was invited recently to speak at the California Nurses Association Conference. This is one of the largest of the American unions. Angela’s report shows what the future could be like. It’s not one that many of us in the NHS would welcome.

Justine is right in her criticisms, but I wish she had stayed in the NHS and leant her weight to a collective fight back in its defence. If we want to rebuild an NHS where people like Justine feel able to continue working, a good place to start is the November 3rd demonstration in London.


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