Sometimes I go for a walk in the local cemetery. I like to wander round looking at old headstones and wondering about the lives of the dead. I’m often drawn to a small one in the middle of a patch of grass that simply has a name, an age, 8, and a date, 1934. Immediately sad isn’t it? Compounded by the fact that the grave was all on its own.
But the thing that made it stand out was that it often had fresh flowers on it. Who is doing that? Conservative estimates would put that child’s parents at 112? Siblings at 85? I wondered if there was a stranger who didn’t like the idea of a child being forgotten who comes and puts flowers there? Or someone who brings flowers and puts them in different places just because life is random and maybe flowers should be too?
Anyway I got locked into the cemetery this week. I wasn’t too bothered. In my head I remain a ninja and a two-mile-long five-foot-high wall is nothing to a ninja but I did text my wife, because, you know, I thought it would make her laugh, to say: “I’m locked in the cemetery and I’m not even in an episode of Scooby Doo”. She replied “What do you mean?” I didn’t reply, I just jumped over the wall went home and asked “What do you mean, what did I mean? It wasn’t a metaphor, I was locked in a cemetery.” And she said “Oh” and then “Shh” because she was watching TV.
However, I notice I ask that question a lot these days. “What do you mean?” because it seems to me people do say an awful lot of stuff that doesn’t actually mean anything and wait for everyone to nod approvingly. Particularly about healthcare and dare I say, nursing.
Take health and social care secretary Matt Hancock’s surreal suggestion at the recent chief nursing officer’s summit that “in some places nurses still stand when a doctor comes into the room”.
Now, I don’t expect searing insight from health secretaries nowadays. In fact, the bar is so low I’m cheerfully surprised if evidence suggests they can walk and talk at the same time, but what did he mean?
Did he travel to the conference from 1934? Had he uncovered hitherto unheard of oppression and was exposing it to the world now? Or was he simply telling nurses what to expect from him. “You don’t have to salute any more but beyond that you are on your own.”
“We bang our drums and tell the world “nursing is great” but that doesn’t necessarily help does it?”
Similarly, Dr Ruth May, the chief nursing officer for England, recently stated that her first priority as CNO is to boost pride in nursing and midwifery, which is nice but what does that mean? Really? And what does “celebrate our profession” mean? I don’t think it means more parties or singing. But I don’t know tangibly what it does mean – for nurses, for the culture, the profession, the individual who is absorbing difficult working days or the student who is running up mountains of debt simply to be allowed to train. And, how will we know when we’ve achieved it? The celebration that is, and the boosted pride?
Ours is an age of sloganeering. We bang our drums and tell the world “nursing is great” but that doesn’t necessarily help does it? These are just words and their meaning lies in what we don’t say. Which is “here are some policies or investments that reflect your value and your work”.
Politicians can’t engender positive feelings in nurses without tangible policies that improve working lives. Returning the bursary would be a start and they could build on that. Perhaps, however, all the talking is a way of avoiding those tangible improvements?
Mark Radcliffe is author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe