Call me unpatriotic but I have always been confused by the word “Great” in Great Britain. Ironically it may be that I am just very British in my coyness when it comes to self-praise? Or it may be that it never really felt earned? I don’t think all the other countries got together and said, “you know who’s Great? Britain, that’s who. With it’s quaint red pillar-boxes and its willingness to tolerate Richard Branson. Let’s call her Great Britain from now on”. And even though Australia, who are particularly fond of us as we all know, tried to amend our new title to “Marvellous Britain”, the name stuck and here we are.
I was listening to a man on the radio this morning. He said, “Do you know why we are Great Britain?” I said out loud, “no, but go on…” and he said “Because of our sheep,” which I didn’t know. Apparently we have great sheep, so great it seems that their greatness extends outwards to characterise the whole of Britain. Again it was a toss up apparently. It could have been “Great Britain” or it could have been “Woolly Britain”. Great won because it means we go nearer the front for the opening ceremony of the Olympics
There are those of course who argue the “Great” is a reference to size rather than excellence. Great Britain distinguishes our large island from smaller places like Brittany or to use its full name, “Smaller Brittany”. But in these thrusting, blustery and psychologically brittle times I think we should pretend that Great means fabulous and look hard for reasons to justify it.
One came along this week with the news that when it came to violent assaults on nursing staff, we are among the world leaders. A big well done Britain, you have managed to turn spitting, biting, punching and kicking nurses into something so normal that when a report highlighting 1.3 million assaults on staff in 2016 is published, it does not make the news. In fact editors of the Great British media outlets shrugged and said, “but is it news? Find me a picture of a cat playing the piano, and get a comment to what Nigel Farage thinks it means”.
Nurses it seems – and none of us are surprised by this but that is no reason not to shout from the rooftops – are resigned to being attacked. They have been socialised into believing assault is normal. A mix of a nursing sensibility that believes in unconditional positive regard and a large section of the community that has no emotional regulators, self-respect, standards or control has come together to create a culture that resembles a war zone more than a treatment environment.
“It reveals something dark, accumulated and degrading about what we as a society are becoming”
It reveals all sorts of things about us as a society that we can normalise attacks on nurses and carers and prosecute so rarely. That we consider it acceptable or that we believe it is an inevitable result of underfunding and understaffing and longer waiting lists – or dare I say, the sense of entitlement that appears to run through some of the people using and abusing services.
Increased and normalised violence against care staff reflects a cultural crisis. It reveals something dark, accumulated and degrading about what we as a society are becoming. We need to confront it by prosecution and a heavy fine system, the proceeds of which go into the health service to fund more prosecutions and staff welfare. I also think that the attitude and violence exercised in A&E departments across ‘Great’ Britain is reflective – in part – of a disdain and aggression toward women that should alarm every single person on these little islands of ours.
Mark Radcliffe is author of Stranger than Kindness.
Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe.