Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.


Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more


'There’s something fishy about pledging allegiance to a logo'


It began as a simple trip to the pet shop, Fish-R-Us.

My daughter has a near encyclopaedic knowledge of fish: “That’s a molly in there with two platies and a guppy, Dad,” she would say before looking more closely and adding “The guppy’s name is Simon. He is a Taurus; he likes swimming”. I pay attention because I know that later there will be questions.

Anyway on this occasion we didn’t make it into the shop. We witnessed an accident outside when an Audi drove into a motorbike. As the young motorcyclist lay on the ground and the woman driving the car sat still, I noticed with a sigh that while three people started filming, nobody went to see if the young man was OK. So I did a quick inventory on my first aid skills – which amount to asking him how he is and counting his legs – and went to see if I could help.

To cut a long story short, he was fine.

He kept fretting about his bike which, being a mental health nurse, I thought was a distraction from the fact that he wasn’t putting any weight on his left leg and didn’t want to look lopsided in front of a pretty girl who had wandered over to take pictures. But I was wrong – it turned out he’d borrowed his brother’s bike without asking.

An ambulance came and I tried to wander off but it proved quite hard. People kept asking me to do stuff: the boy on the bike asked me to be a witness; the woman in the car asked me to forgive her; a Chinese couple asked me to pose for a photograph beside the crash helmet.

Anyway my point is – and I’m guessing you have lots of days like this – my time was filled not with the thing I had set out to do. I was not discussing the biographies of several neon tetra and negotiating the purchase of Gary the gourami – but rather sorting out the fire fight that is a retail car park when things go wrong. My day became a bucket into which random need was placed.

And of course that is the definition of many a nursing day. Indeed it has probably been like that for years but I can’t help but wonder if there is a fundamental difference underpinning that phenomenon these days that has something to do with the sense we make of the struggle?

It started as a night out with various nursey types a few weeks ago, people we have known for years. One of them said: “The thing is, it’s not the same activity I signed up to. It has different values, a different ethos, different language.” Everyone nodded. It became a crescendo of disaffection. Something profound has changed the consensus. We are not doing what we came here to do.

I’ve heard this sort of thing too many times for it not to be significant. Whether it be the language of health economics that dominates clinical questions so overwhelmingly and so unquestioningly, or the vacuous investment in the corporate above the moral, the expectation is that nurses and their colleagues will pledge allegiance to a letterhead rather than to the meaningful values and life that brought most of them to the profession in the first place.

Of course the modern health service will tell you to move with the times but the modern health service often talks hollow nonsense, doesn’t it? The health service relies on the motivation of its workforce – how can that be realigned to logos and business plans when it has been founded on, and embedded in, human qualities? If we lose the staff, we lose everything. I wonder if anyone with power has thought of that?

Mark Radcliffe is a senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.


Readers' comments (5)

  • Tinkerbell

    I have felt for many years like Alice in Wonderland. None of it has made any sense to me for a long, long time. I vaguely remember coming into nursing to be a nurse not to be the ballerina in the fairy tale with the red slippers who could never stop dancing for a nano second until she collapsed with total exhaustion.

    I have now gone into unconditional surrender. I am not going to fight it anymore in an effort to protect myself from continual frustration. It is not good to be continually frustrated at all levels. I don't even understand what 'it' is anymore and would not be able to put it into words. It's just the 'whole' thing. I am becoming a gibbering heap.

    Whenever i ask our porter a question he sums it up for me when he answers 'i haven't got a clue'. It is at this point that i want to wrap my hands round his throat and throttle him but maybe that's how he gets by too. It would be wrong for me to murder him because of my displacement for everything that is totally mad in other areas and because i just want to go back to being a nurse.

    I am no longer going to be a 'pushme pullme' thingy. I'm going right back to basics where i can remember what it is all about and keep it truly simple, my patients, first and foremost.

    I think i will just answer from now on when i get stressed out with unrealistic expectations placed upon me 'I haven't got a clue'. It is a real conversation stopper and makes people turn on their heel to find someone who isn't a perceived dim wit. I will, of course, use the porters catch phrase with a smile on my face.

    i am only applying this strategy to management, they have had their pound of flesh out of me.

    Why is it that most managers get promoted and never try to improve the lot of the staff they have left behind on the front line?

    Could it be that human nature sucks sometimes? oh no i forgot 'i haven't got a clue'.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Since working for a PCT - I have lived through 4 government changes - even when its the same gov, their manifesto changes mean we all have to get off our merri-go-round horse and get on a different one (Its the Dumbo one at the moment) but its still a merry-go-round and we are still just going around and around with no distance travelled.

    I have long stopped caring who the organ grinder is for the sake of my own sanity - eventually the music will stop and I will be able to get off at last (next year actually at 55). I feel sorry for the 'patients' but I must accept that sadly, I can do no more for them than I am currently doing: surely, in the end, that is all any of us can do?

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • I too feel that i have been on a merry go round for years, with constantly changing music, and I'm definitely am disorientated by all the changes in direction now!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Tinkerbell
    Rage, rage against the dying of the Light,
    remember, they don't like it up'em!

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

  • Tinkerbell

    what, the fuzzy wussies.

    Don't panic captain mannering, i'm watching the eurovision and rooting for the Hump.

    Unsuitable or offensive? Report this comment

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.