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Mark Radcliffe: ‘Are nurses too forgiving of a poor health service?’

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So enough about politics, professionalism and the underpinning ethical struggle for the health service: let’s get back to talking about my knee. You’ll remember, of course, that I’m a brave soldier but I had to have an MRI scan anyway.

The scan was about a month ago and I hadn’t heard anything so I phoned up to see if someone might want to offer any treatment, or perhaps go for coffee.

Turns out they’d forgotten all about it but they promised to get back to me within 24 hours. I knew they were busy, so I left it a week and phoned again. They’d moved offices. I didn’t take it personally. They said they’d phone back and, this time, they did. In fact, they gave me the results of my scan. Unfortunately, they were the wrong results of the wrong scan.

Easily done though.

As things stand, someone will phone me after next Thursday with some information about something. So that’s alright, then.

And I was wondering two things, really. If you have worked in or around the health service for a long time, as I have, what is your reaction to a rubbish service supposed to be? How do you, as a nurse, feel when you become a patient?

Initially, and perhaps naively, I was very defensive of the health service as a whole. I probably still am. I said to the woman on the phone that the difficulty is never the people working for the health service but the system that dictates what they do and how they do it.

But I wonder if that is true. If we find ourselves poorly treated, are we more understanding than other people may be? More forgiving because we want to believe that everyone is doing their best? Or are we more frustrated because we care about the health service enough to want it to be as good as its best staff and its founding principles? Or are we just embarrassed

The other thing I wonder is what happened to the ‘national’ part of the NHS? There are simply too many tiny bits of organisation, with their own mission statements and their own internal logic, all working away – usually with the best of intentions – in glorious isolation.

If you ask: ‘Can I have my test results?’, they say: ‘Sorry, we don’t do test results, we do appointments.’ ‘OK, can I have an appointment to get my test results?’ ‘Not until someone gives us the test results. It’s not our fault. It is someone else’s.’ And maybe it is, but whatever happened to the skill of taking responsibility rather than ascribing blame?

And there is plenty of skill still on show, isn’t there? Brilliant nurses and doctors and all manner of other people trying to make a difference. But the skill is blunted by a system that doesn’t work, a defensiveness that has become ingrained and too many small self-contained bits of health service without any clear sense of purpose.

There has been too much politics thrown at the health service over the past 20 years and not enough understanding. I wonder: is it too late to do anything about that now?

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