We talk to Chris Hart, consultant nurse in forensic psychiatry at South West London and St George’s Mental Health Trust and principal lecturer at Kingston University and St George’s University, London, who qualified in 1978.
Why did you become a nurse?
I’d been at an all-boys’ school. Also, I didn’t want a job I hated making loads of money for someone else, so I sacrificed earnings to do something more useful. I never thought I’d be doing it long as I have.
Where did you train?
I trained as an adult nurse at St James’ Hospital in London and at St Augustine’s Hospital, near Canterbury in mental health. Both are now demolished but that’s nothing to do with me.
What was your first job?
In the ITU at St James’ as a general nurse and, in psychiatry, at London’s Maudsley Hospital Both had a positive influence.
From whom have you learnt most in your nursing career?
David Tracey, a mental health nurse I worked with for almost 20 years – a great clinician, wise and compassionate, with a true moral compass. He’s also immensely funny.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Investigate nursing history, learn why it is as it is, join other nurses to improve things for yourself. Be sceptical but never cynical. You’ll help patients as much by doing that as anything else.
What keeps you awake at night?
My son’s snoring when he stays. And this government if I think too much about the destruction it’s wreaking on the social and economic fabric of our society.
What’s the most satisfying part of your job?
Being trusted to get on with things and having a lot of direct contact with patients. Working with so many nurses who are completely committed to doing the right thing for patients, no matter how difficult.
What’s your proudest achievement?
My two beautiful sons, largely down to my wife. And my book, Nurses and Politics.
What do you think will change nursing in the next decade?
The coalition government, and not for the better. It’s not just the appalling health act and the biggest programme of cuts in the history of the NHS, it’s the attacks on the poor, pension changes and an ideological shift even further away from caring for the most needy. Nursing will be a lot harder. But I hope nurses will adapt and meet the challenges constructively.
What job would you like to be doing in five years?
Definitely gardening. Digging in the dirt, trying to get things to grow and balancing the colours through the seasons.
What makes a good nurse?
Mindfulness, compassion, wisdom, the ability to care when you’re really tired, a sense of community. Listening carefully to the patient.
If you could change one thing in healthcare, what would it be?
People having decent housing, a good job and a living wage would do more to improve health than anything we can do once they’re ill. To improve healthcare, I’d improve nursing’s status, authority and autonomy.
What would your ideal weekend involve?
Being somewhere quiet, perhaps with friends, Crystal Palace winning, a nice meal, a great gig and the theatre.
If you could spend an hour with someone, who would it be?
Harjinder Sehmi, senior lecturer at Kingston, as he owes me a pint. Or George Harrison – a guitar lesson, great humour and the secret of life.