“It’s not like that on CSI or Cagney and Lacey,” was my less than helpful response.
I was chatting to a good friend who lives in California. Her family home had been burgled. Her husband is a photographer and they – as one likes to imagine most Californians are – are up to their ears in technology. Computers, cameras, jetpacks: between the alarm going off and them getting in 15 minutes later, more than $10,000 of stuff had gone.
“We’ve found some prints,” mumbled the not-happy-in-his-work police officer. “Good,” said my friend. “Not really,” he replied. “We have a two-year waiting list on checking fingerprints – we won’t get to yours until 2014.” “Might they not have got away by then?” asked my friend, who has spent time in England and is thus well versed in the art of sarcasm. The police officer shrugged. “If I were you, lady,” – in my mind’s eye he was a large, shiny man holding a big bag of doughnuts as he spoke – “I’d put bars on your windows and buy yourself a gun.”
All about investment in public service, I suppose. Californian law enforcement telling householders to arm themselves because there are probably only 17 police officers left in San Francisco and a part-time college student in charge of fingerprints doesn’t just paint a picture of disinvestment – it actually reshapes society, doesn’t it? They move from “if you see a robbery call the police” to “fingerprints are pointless, shoot them!” But I cannot talk about public services being eroded every week without being dull, so can I talk about the police officer? The one I never met?
I am fascinated by what happens to people when they come into a line of work with a clear sense of purpose only to have that drained from them by circumstance, hopelessness, fatigue or a tsunami of unmeetable need. I wonder about the life of the police officer who shrugs and says: “We won’t catch them, buy a gun.” In a similar way, I wonder about nurses who struggled to meet need at Mid Staffordshire. It is easy to condemn them – but might we not all be susceptible to what shapes their work?
I think increasingly people who work in stressful, emotionally laden and drama-heavy jobs become repositories of difficult experiences. They become the witnesses to the robberies or the illness or the struggles of every day life and they are forced to hold or manage the failures of “the system” in order to try to help.
It has always been like this. Nurses, police officers and firefighters have long borne witness to human suffering and they have tried to manage it. Can I just make the very obvious but too often ignored point that to sustain that role and even continue to be able to function they need clinical supervision or – dare I suggest – something even better.
In this climate, the very idea that we need to be doing more to ensure the wellbeing, capacity for emotional labour, and sustainability of public servants is almost unthinkable.
But perhaps that is all the more reason for doing it. Is there a more important professional issue than sustaining the professionals? Campaigning for, at the very least, non-negotiable and mandatory supervision for all is a must.
Forming an even more progressive approach to maintaining the health and capacity of nurses, healthcare assistants and other public servants is a crucial step in the protection of quality and wellbeing. Otherwise, we are sacrificing nurses and surely nobody could justify that?
“Emotional support for nurses is as vital as doughnuts for the police”