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OPINION

How many shop assistants does it take to stroke a paperweight?

  • 4 Comments

Went for a day trip with an old friend yesterday. We had a nice lunch, wandered around the shops.

I bought two new tops in the sale - very nice, thanks for asking - and then my friend said she wanted to go to a designer homeware shop, the name of which is withheld to protect the innocent.

This place had pretty baubles, plates with flowers on them and expensive stationery. It was a sparse, well designed shop with funny doors and no customers.

Yet five people worked there. Well I counted five; there may have been more out the back polishing plates or stroking paperweights.

We didn’t buy anything in the homeware shop and, while no doubt someone might, I cannot imagine there being a time when they had a rush, when all five of the staff had to do something at the same time or, heaven forbid, call one of the paperweight stroking people out to help manage the queue.

The only way we know how to value something these days is through cost. Yet nobody is going to argue that selling scarves is more useful than providing care for a patient, are they?

Later, we went to a specialist tea shop. Another seven people worked in there. While I am sure there are many hidden tasks attached to the packaging and selling of tea, does it take seven people? Let’s face it, there are hospital wards with fewer staff.

So how does it work then, this private sector? Essentially, as far as I can see, if you make a profit you can do whatever you want.

So, the designer homeware shop must sell enough stationery and make up bags to: (a) continue to produce the bric a brac; (b) pay the rent on the shop - Covent Garden, London, no less; (c) pay the wages of the staff. Oh, and (d) provide a profit. Profit trumps everything. As a carpet salesman once said to a student of mine who told him what she did for a living, “Oh, you are one of those people living off of my taxes are you?”

The only way we know how to value something these days is through cost. Yet nobody is going to argue that selling scarves is more useful than providing care for a patient, are they?

They may argue that it is more lucrative, that it creates more wealth or that it enables people to keep their necks warm - but it isn’t as useful is it?

As a society we don’t talk about usefulness any more. That is why people can attack public service pensions or the cost of education, or talk about waste in the health service as though waste is the main produce of a hospital, because they do not take into account the added value that doing something useful brings to the collective known as society.

For many years when pay in the health service was really bad, we were told that “knowing we did something useful” was reward enough.

Now there has been a shift in thinking, the word useful doesn’t get mentioned. The words “drain on resources” are used instead.

This thinking is corrosive. It legitimises attacks on nursing, on standards, staffing and pay. We need to remind people that usefulness has a value that goes beyond that of bric a brac.

If we feel powerless in the face of politicians, the press and silent leadership, one thing we can all do is to articulate
how use value trumps exchange value every time.

It is surely time we reclaimed the language that judges a life well lived and a job well done. And time, perhaps, to challenge the all pervading importance of homeware.

  • 4 Comments

Readers' comments (4)

  • 'It is surely time we reclaimed the language that judges a life well lived and a job well done. And time, perhaps, to challenge the all pervading importance of homeware' Here, here!!

    Problem is many like this 'private sector jargon' and this dehumanises staff and patients. The NHS seems to be taken down a road that few want, but still support. Wait....there will be a change in the name of the NHS (I predict) that leads us to believe it is a more modern term with a privatised undertone, that leads us further down the privatisation path.

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  • as both a patient and a nurse, I do not believe the private sector will be any worse, or better, than the NHS!
    The NHS wastes so much money and does not consider us, the customer, to be customers, but rather as peoplpe they are giving their time in a charitible way to. Medical staff in the NHS do need to remember that without these "nuisance patients," they would be out of work, not only that, but the "patients," have actually paid a lot of money for the system to receive the care they are not getting.
    Start of by calling the users of the system "customers," and there may be some respect, or perhaps just start teaching nurses the old ways of caring, serving and humbleness. Then we can call it a vocation again.

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  • There it is , in a nutshell........ caring serving and humbleness.
    All any human being wants when they are unwell is to be cared for by a kind and understanding person. Obviously a person with sufficient knowledge to care for them in an appropriate way but none the less, a person who is not resentful of the task in hand . Whether that resentment is caused by pay, work conditions or stress. Lets not all be super matrons...... hmm but rather the caring person who actually feels fulfilled by the job that they are doing and leaves a happy , comfortable, clean , fed , and cared for patient at the end of the day.

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  • I agree completely with all of the comments above. I am stunned by the resounding silence on this issue from our unions and professional organisations. We can only make a real impact by acting collectively and this will only happen with sound proactive leaders. I can't help but feel that we are doomed!

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