A young person's reflections on a parent who works in the NHS

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Red Youth welcomes letters and comments from supporters and friends. Below is a heartfelt letter which we have received from a young comrade in the east midlands. We reproduce it below without change…

Having a family member work for the NHS rarely entitles you to any benefits. Working for the NHS in 2013 is synonymous with working unsocial hours trying to manage the work of a dozen on your own, all the while the sword of redundancy hangs precariously above your head. Having a mother who has worked for the NHS for nigh on two decades now, this is the sort of thing I’m used to hearing when she returns home. Nevertheless, despite all this, my mother has consistently come home with some of the most humorous and also some of the most saddening stories from a workplace that I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, this story falls into the latter category.

Allow me to set the scene for the last tale she came home with. The hospital my mother works at currently, and has done for the best part of 10 years now, has been relatively ‘lucky’ when it comes to NHS cuts. The hospital (which I will not name to spare it the embarrassment) still stands relatively intact and has no major calamities to plague it. To the voyeur, this is one of Britain’s better public hospitals. If there was ever an apple with a rotten core however, then this would be it.

My mother works in the pathology department of the hospital. Or at least, sometimes she does. Her hospital has experienced such a shortage of staff (many of which due to walk outs due to poor treatment, but more on that later) that she and her co-workers often rotate between three and four different departments simply to cover the workload. Of course, this is masqueraded as a ‘varied experience’ for the staff, but in reality means they can’t afford to set on any more staff. 

This tale from my mother concerns one of the other employees at the hospital, a co-worker left to manage an entire department on her own during a particularly busy shift of organizing blood samples, which are obviously quite crucial to the maintenance of patients’ health. Aware of the high workload demanded of its staff, the management’s solution to this problem is to send any excess work on to a nearby (by which I mean around 75 miles) hospital to be completed there. So, worrying that that the workload would go uncompleted if she were to carry on by herself, she sends some of the samples on the 150 mile round trip to be completed elsewhere. All done according to the guidelines she was given. Job done, work sorted, everyone carry on.

This hospital has achieved something of a wonderful bureaucracy of late, where staff can be expected to answer to around half a dozen different ‘bosses’, who don’t really do a great deal of work nor management, and any work or managing they do often conflicts with the work or management of a rival boss. The entire hospital appears to consist of little more than bosses, not sure what to do or who to manage. When the employee was questioned about what was done with the excess samples by another ‘senior’ boss. When she replies, confirming that she did was was instructed, this senior boss’ reply is, ‘that costs too much, you should have done it yourself’. 

But what about the patients who needed these samples and who would go without if she was left to do them alone? The reply is, ‘stuff the bloody patients’.

So, what’s the point in this story? It might appear to be just another ‘boss from hell’ story, it certainly is, it’s much more than that. This is not just an isolated incident but a reflection of the way the entire hospital is run. The one thing that has plagued this hospital, and by extension the NHS, over the last few years is the complete disregard for human lives. Sure, these type of stories are your average ‘horrible boss’ story when it comes to any other place of work and I’m sure every person you talk to will have one. But when it come down to it, the ‘horrible bosses’ of the NHS are in charge of people’s lives as well as people’s wages. 

In one harsh sentence, this senior boss has reduced the lives of patients at this hospital to little more than a monetary exchange, where if the cost is too high then they are left to rot. But it is not just the patients who’ve been reduced, but also the staff. The management at this hospital have long had a reputation for treating both patients and staff as a little less than human, little more than machines. As is common in so many workplaces, the boss is the craftsmen and the workers his tools. Faceless objects of labour, built to work and little more. This senior is the face of capitalism corrupt, where money is deemed more valuable than human lives. 

Obviously, to attribute the failings of the NHS to the management based on a story from one hospital would be foolish indeed. But when the senior boss who was so keen to save money puts time aside in his schedule, which is quite frankly bare, to play golf every week with an even more senior management, then I find it hard not to judge the management for being completely detached and incompetent. The management at this hospital showed an attitude of such inconsideration which has no place in a modern society, let alone its health service.

It is the inconsiderate management that is to blame for the catastrophe that is the NHS in 2013, both within and without the institution. Whilst the hospital management do an excellent job of treating patients and employees like dirt, the management of the country do an even better job of treating everyone like that. Needless to say, the NHS is one of the greatest things that Britain has installed, so why is it being left to disintegrate? The simple answer to that question is because of the inconsiderate, incompetent and detached management, that comes in the form of the government. I write this in the wake of austerity measures, and coincidentally on the 65th birthday of the NHS, so we are all fully aware of the extreme measures that cuts to public services are facing. Only a few days ago, we saw that funding to hospitals, schools and other services was being cut again but somehow our government could justify increasing military and intelligence spending. Rather than nurture its own country, our government has chosen war-making and spying on its own citizens instead of caring for and educating its ill and vulnerable.

There is no justification for this. No excuse can warrant the slashing of public services whilst intelligence and military funding increases. Where is the intelligence in that? Its this kind of behaviour that leads me to label the government as incompetent and detached, but there are no other words to describe them (none I wish to put into print, at least). As it has been for so long, the few in our management seek to benefit themselves whilst the majority lay unattended for. The golf trip is paid for, whilst the many struggle. But where are we, the many, to turn to in such times? There was a time when the Labour Party were the obvious candidates to represent the many, who needed the NHS and the many other public services Britain used to provide. If you weren’t turned away from Labour after the Oil Wars, then you were almost certainly turned away when Labour declared they would do nothing to reverse austerity. What’re we to do, when the devil in the red mask is the same as the one in the blue? The words of Karl Marx spring to mind; ‘The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.’

The only thing the many who depend on public services can do is to continue fighting for them. Regardless of how powerful the few thing they are, they are still nought when compared to the many. The people you elected to represent you and your needs, now only represent the needs of themselves and the few. So no, this story is not just an isolated case and is not just the failure of management when it comes to the needs of employees and patients, but also the failure of government and ultimately the failure of capitalists when it comes to the needs of the working class.

The many must manage themselves when the boss is absent, which is why we have to keep up the defence of public interests, not the interests of those who seek to abuse us. The power has always been with the people, which is why they try so hard to repress us and take away that which we need. That is why its so important to keep fighting for the interests of the many, of the working class, of those who tire of seeing their rewards be reaped by someone else. We must remain defiant in the face of capitalists, for true power is possessed only by the people and the more the few are made aware of this fact, then the sooner we might seek to gain our rightful place as people, not just as tools.

Save the NHS from capitalist Greed!