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‘I hope you find a way to be compassionate to yourselves’

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Call me crass and irresponsible but I hope you find a way to treat yourself at Christmas

When your partner, mother, daughter or friends ask what you want this year try not to reply ‘don’t worry about me’ ‘new support tights’, or ‘a voucher’. There really is no excuse for giving someone a ‘voucher’ by the way – unless it is your mother-in-law and she is allergic to chocolate. And wool. And sherry. And biscuits. And her son-in-law.

“No amount of showing the world that nurses are being made to absorb the worst excesses of austerity seems to make any difference”

Anyway, treat yourself, treat others too. Push the boat out. Better still, steal a posh person’s boat and push that out.

Nobody on the planet will be surprised to hear of another survey of nurses, this one by the Royal College of Nursing that finds 70% nurses are worse off than they were five years ago, 23% of them have taken on an extra job, 61% of them feel they are working at the wrong grade. Fewer than ever would recommend nursing to others and more than ever are considering leaving.

I could carry on reporting nursing experience here but if I write that nurses are being forced to sell their own body parts to afford car parking prices and that some of them are working such long shifts they have forgotten where they live it won’t matter. No amount of showing the world that nurses are being made to absorb the worst excesses of austerity seems to make any difference.

There is a disconnect between the experiences of nurses and the political will of a public, who may be feeling as though it has its own problems, have become immune to any form of news (because there is so much of it) or have somehow been persuaded that hardship and distress are inevitable.

To that backdrop, no amount of shouting or sharing information or experience can penetrate ideology or policy. Nursing, in fact health and social care in general are disempowered by news fatigue. Left waiting for a political morsel, a piece of electioneering or a pay rise that accidentally makes itself into reality.

Given the season, I admit I paint a bleak picture. Not a surprising or unrealistic one though. I know an awful lot of nurses and none of them have even the vaguest sense that any organisation or person is listening to them or able to change anything. That is as isolating as it is disrespectful.

“I hope you find a way to be compassionate to yourselves, be celebrated by those near you, and held and thought about and cared for”

When change does come as it often does it will often be an undermining change. Organisational restructuring (again), role changing maybe and a feeling that nurse associates will not so much ease the burden as reduce the wage bill. The sort of change that unsettles and demoralises, that makes good people disposable, exhausted, sad.

So yes, it may be crass to suggest to people who are underpaid and underresourced to ‘treat themselves’ at Christmas but goodness knows they deserve it. There is a tendency, tattooed on many nurses after years in the role, of automatically saying ‘don’t worry about me’; of being the last to pour a drink or open a present or be appreciated.

I say this not just as someone who knows nurses and a bit about nursing and recognises the decency that laces the majority of the people who do it. I say it as someone who has watched someone they care about be nursed brilliantly these last few weeks by people who may not feel seen but are.

I hope you find a way to be compassionate to yourselves, be celebrated by those near you, and held and thought about and cared for. You may forgive me if that sounds seasonally sentimental. In truth, I notice in myself I feel something akin to rage.

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness.

Follow him on Twitter: @markacradcliffe.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Well said and insightful as ever. Don't worry I will not ask for new support tights but a nice single malt will spoil me admirably.

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