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'Relentless attacks on nursing leave people tired to the bone'


How tired are you? On a scale of 1-10 where 10 is “I’m not tired at all - in fact I could jog to work, do a double shift, get home, feed the kids, polish the dog then jog out to my second job at Pete’s All-Night Car Wash and Curtain Repair Shop where I am in charge of ironing the drapes and colour coding the sponges.” And 1 involves a little bit of dribble slipping down your chin as you choose not to answer stupid questions in a magazine.

Everyone I have spoken to lately seem to be reporting the dribble thing. Bone weary, overworked, a bit stressed. They report that their normal irritability sensors are off. That the things that should annoy them - Nigel Farage, air pollution, blisters: feel normal - are not. While things that are usually benign or even sweet - kittens, Kylie Minogue, whoever they are married to - are really winding them up.

I know of 43-year-olds fantasising about retirement in around two decades’ time because they think it will be the next time they get to sit down. I know of a 48-year-old senior nurse thinking of retraining as a primary school teacher (or possibly a marine?) because he thinks he will find it a bit more easy going.

What am I saying? I’m saying people are tired.

Not that such things should be dwelt upon of course. Nursing absorbs difficulty, it is part of the professional responsibility of the nurse. And, while we have a history of being able to complain for Britain among ourselves, nursing is about soldiering on, getting the job done and making the best of things.

But people are tired and I want to notice it for two reasons. First, because when tired people do things, the quality of their actions are affected. No matter how well meaning, we cannot nurse as well or teach as well or study as well.

Second, this is a politically constructed tiredness. When a government begins to assault and erode public service, it is public servants who will see the impact and try to temper it with their own humanity. They may make a difference for a while but it is like putting fingers into dams - no matter how hard you try, you and everyone around you is going to get soaked.

Then pay cuts compound the assault. These tell you not only that what you do has reduced value but also that you - the trained professional who enables society to function by looking after the wellbeing of others - have reduced value too. Get a job in the private sector if you want better pay - go somewhere where the profit stream is more obvious.

When an ideologically driven government like the current one gets into power, it takes two or three years before what it does reaches into the very bones of people. It may get to the wallet quite quickly but it takes a little longer to become embodied. It has done that now, or at least it has in the people I know and see.

There is a relentlessness to the working lives of public servants now. Not just in the day-to-day pressures of meeting need and providing services but also on the organisational pressures of having to manage ill-considered policy and perpetual, pointless change.

There are those who think such an assault is intentional. A body of politics designed to break a mentality or a provision. I think that credits politicians with more foresight than they have. I suspect it is rather that they treat with contempt the things and people that they simply do not care about.

Mark Radcliffe is senior lecturer, and author of Stranger than Kindness. Follow him on twitter @markacradcliffe


Readers' comments (9)

  • Tired enough that I fall asleep approx. 1hr after arriving home after every shift.
    Have distinct difficulty finding words to talk to my partner let alone stringing them together coherently, which he will willingly attest to, after said shifts.
    Take 24-48hr to recover after consecutive shifts.
    So, on a scale of 1-10 its variable but a general tired to the boneness is ongoing, not entirely relieved by 2 weeks maximum permitted leave

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  • i gave up when I found I went into a deep sleep between shifts and had great difficulty in waking up again and at the very last minute having to rush back to work still in a stupor; when I cried on the way to work in the early mornings; and when I felt my vase was so empty I had nothing else to offer my patients and was no longer able to feel for them or care for them. all of these related to a series of serious adverse and tragic life events in quick succession over a short space of time and for which I was offered no support or understanding from my colleagues although initially my boss was very helpful in getting me some of the time off I needed for bereavement, making funeral arrangements, etc.. Once I recovered from all of this with far more life experiences and far more understanding for others in difficult situations and strength than every before I was unable to get another nursing job, mainly on grounds of age - mid 50s! I obtained an MSc and was so convinced i would be able to the job far better than ever before.

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  • I'm so tired I'm retiring a 18 months early it will cost me a few thousand but my health is worth more than money. I work 8 hour days (lunch break what lunch break) yet the work is piling up and when I say that all I get in response is it has to be done. Well let somebody else get it done

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  • It's not just Nurses, but yes I am one and luckily can afford to only work 2 days a week. But in our house it's my husband (a Hospital consultant) who is tired. Tired of the physical and mental stress, but tired also of all the politics and the hate campaign by the media. He is tired of managers not listening - but often threatening, and tired of colleagues in fighting and petty jealousies.

    So we are off to New Zealand to offer our skills there and enjoy a better work / life balance, something which has become a joke in this Country.

    We are not the only ones, staff in our trust are emigrating at an amazing rate.

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  • Anonymous | 20-Apr-2014 4:44 pm

    I left long ago for Europe, to enjoy a long and fulfilling career where I was appreciated and my work well rewarded, and have never looked back and am now enjoying a happy retirement for the last 14 years in stunning scenery, good health, very active and a great way of life but near enough to visit GB when I wish.

    My Dad was a whole time NHS consultant and department head for 30 years and with a merit award earned less than me with my SRN. He found things started to go downhill with Griffiths and his general management model. As an already experienced, highly respected and successful departmental manager and on the hospital management committee and planning committee for the new hospital he was packed off to a hotel in Tonbridge Wells for course Management 3 and was horrified to find himself with staff from all areas of the hospital addressing each other by their Christian names!

    He hated these changes which were being introduced and was once forbidden from changing a light bulb in his office where he did his reporting and had to wait over a week for it to be changed after filling in five forms and submit to several inspections from the works department which merited a letter from him to the local newspaper!

    He also had to hide his secretary in his darkened office as she was being hounded by people conducting a time and motion study who even followed her to the loo! My Dad's office was forbidden territory to them whilst he was reporting for reasons of patient confidentiality.

    He was so dedicated to his work and his patients, had a long and happy retirement, having stayed on for an extra five or more years relived of the burden of running his department so he was free to enjoy his medical skills to the full once again and also wrote several medical books and papers. He died on the tennis court at the age of 81 in 1995 and I am happy for him he has not seen the terrible decline and the way consultants, nurses and all the other staff are now treated in the NHS. many of his younger colleagues left or were forced into early retirement although I never realised what the grounds might have been.

    I wish you both all the very best of luck for an exciting new start where you can put the poorer NHS experiences behind you and take with you all of the more positive ones, and a long and happy life in NZ with fulfilling careers.

    I am only grateful that I received an excellent training in a London teaching hospital a long time ago which compared very favourably with that of my European peers, and more recently gained a little experience in the NHS after completing an MSc in Healthcare management but very brief negative experience in the private sector in the UK where I was dismissed after only a few shifts and to this day have no idea why but in light of all the news can only think I was scapegoated as the reason given was that I had been heard to complain about the establishment which was totally untrue. I was phoned at home and asked not to return to the bank where I was employed without being offered any further explanation so have no idea who had reported this and was not offered any opportunity for further discussion. I was so stunned on the phone I was unable to give much of a response and the RCN were unable to offer any support so I dropped the matter but the shock was deep and essentially put an end to my career even though I did not need to mention it on my CV or ask for any references as I only did about five shifts and a theoretical course on venepuncture which I could have taught myself as it was a large part of my job daily for 20 years. On the wards nobody ever had time to verify the practical part so I was not allowed to practice my skills and was essential engaged as the bed maker, tea lady, sister's general dog's body and entrusted with taking the odd blood pressure which seemed to be rather a waste of a fairly costly resource! but I did not complain as I thought it a good opportunity to get to know the job! the director of nursing who had engaged me and sacked me was a religious sister, and one of the few remaining as the now BMI private hospital used to be a Franciscan nursing home where I had accompanied my Mum until she died there and received excellent nursing care and where my Dad had done a few private sessions before going whole time NHS - so really no grounds for any comlaints!

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  • To the people who wrote the two articles above. Thank you for highlighting that yes there is the possibility of a life abroad in healthcare away from this country where the govt cannot understand why we should not work for peanuts !!
    I can only afford to do agency as the full time roles wont cover living costs childcare, car, etc. I think we should ahve a minimum pay rate for all nurses and it should be min £20/hr as you wont get a man and van for less !! The bankers can just print the money or create money out of nothing like they have been doing for years !!
    New Zealand sounds great ...they may just have another recruit soon !!

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  • Anonymous | 25-Apr-2014 4:35 pm

    from the comment above yours, my Dad found it amusing that I earned significantly more than he did as a whole time NHS consultant and department head for 30 years overseeing a staff of about 30.

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  • I agree, Griffiths was the beginning of the end. Maggie and Griffiths have a lot to answer for!

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  • surely people can see that 'general management' was never intended as a management model for health services and does not work and has caused considerable harm to may patients and those working in it. when will it change? with such a mess there is now the golden opportunity to look at and analyse all the other more successful world models of healthcare and design the very best and unique one specifically for the NHS.

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