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''Tis the season to take a stand against the war on nursing'


There are two ways to approach Christmas this year I think.

There’s the obvious “let’s tighten our belts and fashion toys for our children from driftwood and orange peel, and we will make our own entertainment by colouring in old newspaper and doing mime”. Or the less wise but really quite appealing “I’ve worked hard this year and, thus, I shall overspend and to hell with the consequences. We shall have our own reindeer and a horse. And when black January comes I shall, if necessary, sell a kidney or go to prison”.

Personally I am running out of kidneys but an undervalued workforce shows its dissent in a myriad of ways, doesn’t it? And the easiest of those may well be shopping.

It is pretty clear that chancellor George Osborne doesn’t like the public services. Like most Tories he doesn’t really understand why anyone would want to spend their working lives creating things of value like health or education instead of doing something constructive like guessing the future value of stocks and shares that you don’t yet own. But it seems to go beyond that - not content with attacking our pensions, he is inducing real-term pay cuts with a pay freeze of 1% and looking to save further money by cutting jobs.

I’m expecting phase two of George’s war on good to be a bit more subtle. He may start with some name calling and rumour spreading. “Did you know that all nurses are really witches? Pass it on.” That may be followed by quicksand in hospital foyers. Or he may leave three-day-old fish in the cars of community nurses. Or get someone else to do it for him and call it job creation. Or he might just skip subtle altogether and head straight for some snipers? Or he could announce that, in future, Christmas will only apply to those people who work in the private sector. The rest of us? Well, we’ll just have to make do with Whitsun and the inevitable harvest festival.

Should that happen I think we can safely assume that the Royal College of Nursing might get quite cross. Indeed it may even send out a press release saying “steady now”. And should George not back down - should he move on to phase three and ban nurses from wearing shoes - then I suspect the RCN may even wag a finger and tut loudly. Who knows, it may even drag itself into the same century as everyone else and ask its members if they might want to oppose what is happening to them and the work they do by withdrawing their labour.

Perhaps its members may decide against taking strike action - but at least they will have been asked. They will have been given an opportunity to voice a view in the face of what is not just an assault on the salaries and pensions of individual nurses, but also on the value and purpose of their work.

As it is, nursing continues to appear quietened, submissive and demure. And if that submission is part of a strategy that expects government to eventually thank them for not opposing the cuts and reinstating Christmas and shoes then I suggest a rethink.

Have you ever seen a determined and skilful nurse say “no” in the face of a bullying patient, a nagging consultant, a needy manager? Formidable, isn’t it? Just imagine what a quarter of a million of them would be like. It is surely time to ask all nurses whether they feel that the time has come to say “no” together - if only out of professional self-respect.

Happy Christmas.

Mark Radcliffe is a senior lecturer and author of Gabriel’s Angel.


Readers' comments (18)

  • Well said!

    It is about damn time our entire profession stood up and said no! A significant (and growing) number of Nurses are getting fed up with the war that is being waged on us, and make no mistake these are sustained and repeated attacks against our profession, it will only be a matter of time before the straw breaks the back of our profession and we strike back, and when we do, the government will rue the day it messed with us!

    And for those Nurses who are still on the fence, or too weak, demure and cowardly to do anything about all of these sustained attacks, then stand with us, or stand aside.

    For inspiration for how you all SHOULD be acting, just look at what our Australian colleagues are doing!

    Bring on the strikes! Bring on the fight! I for one am ready for it!

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  • Many, though sadly not all, RCN members are screming for our paid representatives at the RCN to do something. I am yet to be convinced that the RCN is anything other than a mouthpiece for the gvt rather than it's members (better chance of that KBE, don't you think?)
    It's such a shame that an organisation in a position to lead puts so much effort and the resources of it's members into behaving like sheep. Trouble is the voices the RCN are listening too are called Lansley and Osborne rather than the voices of the members.

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  • I agree with Mark, he has hit the nail on the head. George Osborne, Andrew Lansley, Lord Hutton etc seem to actively dislike public service workers, and it is getting very wearing. My trust spend a lot of time trying to get us to audit this, audit that, tick box endless meaningless lists for unimportant things, leaving us with little time for the important things like caring for our patients. I personally do not do any of the unimportant stuff until the patients have had the care they need, and if I've actually managed to get a meal break. I don't care if they don't like it, as I'm there for my patients, not for unnecessary rubbish. We work so hard as nurses, and it is about time we were appreciated by the government instead of being vilified by them and the press, who love to stick the knife in. (Yes, Daily mail, that's you')

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  • michael stone

    I agree with Mark, more-or-less, and I am very strongly with Anonymous 15-Dec-2011 3:19 pm and his views about priorities.

    I must admit, that I don't notice this 'everyone is against us' thing, but then again I do not read the Mail (and if I did, I wouldn't be reading anything close to 'editorial opinion' as I gather it is somewhat right-wing: besides, I want to read facts, not 'indoctrination').

    But as there is such a dislike of the non-confrontational nature of the RCN (which might simply be that the RCN will only strongly fight, if it thinks it might win - Carter regularly chips in with 'this shows we need more nurses', as he has done for today's dementia report') and stamps are still fairly cheap, why not take direct action ? If every NHS nurse in the country (assuming they all believe the same things as Mark) wrote to Osborne, Lansley, your local MP and the Times, clearly explaining your grievances and how not addressing them DOES damage patient care, might that not have an effect ?


    'Have you ever seen a determined and skilful nurse say “no” in the face of a bullying patient, a nagging consultant, a needy manager? Formidable, isn’t it? Just imagine what a quarter of a million of them would be like. It is surely time to ask all nurses whether they feel that the time has come to say “no” together - if only out of professional self-respect.'

    is a very valid point, but if it is the Goverment you consider to be the problem, complain directly at it !

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 15-Dec-2011 3:19 pm
    'I personally do not do any of the unimportant stuff until the patients have had the care they need'

    Good for you! I have decided to go in on Christmas Day as Pippy Longstocking, don't know why, completely mad pal, and fed up with all this doom and gloom. I haven't quite got the outfit together yet, but will work with the tights as a starting point. We will try and have ourselves a 'merry little christmas' on our unit regardless. None of my colleagues will bat an eyelid as they know i am completely barking and as their ward sister I act as a good role model. I suggest we all have a 'pippy longstocking day' to cheer ourselves and our patients up.

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  • tinkerbell

    sorry i've posted this on wrong article, was meant to go on breaking the christmas routine.

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  • Hmmn... considering joining Unison instead of (my) RCN.

    Wonderful to see such a large turnout against pension cuts the other week in Bristol, though only a small fraction of Bristol Nurses...why don't we care en mass?

    Wanted to strike but went in for my late shift cos only 2 others protested with me from my ward, so would only have stitched up my colleagues and damn like hell wud the matrons/management have filled in my place. Different if we strike en mass tho and force bank/agency/management to cover.

    Politicians/Media laughed at us pension strike day saying we didn't disrupt ENOUGH!!! Surely we got the message across to be debated? Tho many private sectors just said there pensions are cut but they aren't in a position to strike, so we should shut up... like we got it good!

    i'll try to stay +ve while thinking of ways to recreate my better life.

    Happy Christmas to you ALL, fellow nurses and forumers

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  • Tinkerbell I wish you were my ward sister. I like a good moan it keeps me sane or this job would send me over the top. My place is doom and gloom following news of more ward closures us being one of them.

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  • Well Mark yet another christmas that I will work through. I agree George has no appreciation what the public sector give up. Would I like to be at home with my family relaxing after all the preparations for christmas - Yes I would. I used to think well at least I will get a decent pension after all the years of snatching bits of celebrations. Now they are attacking my pension and I have the prospect working till I drop. Merry Christmas Mark.

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  • tinkerbell

    Anonymous | 20-Dec-2011 10:33 pm

    Sorry to hear about your ward closing, trying hard not to swear here the day before Christmas, but i am sick to the back teeth about what is happening to our lovely NHS, these are not reforms, these are total destruction of care and compassion. How can we provide better care when more and more of our wards are closing. We have already had 2 closed wards staff redeployed to our unit. The redeployed staff arrive in a state of distress and with very low moral and then we have to try and integrate them into our team and build them up again whilst all the time watching our backs to see if we will be closed. The next ward has already closed so we are awaiting further incoming casualties. (so far so good managing not to use the 'F' word).

    Suffice to say not only now do we have to look after our patients but we are also looking after staff who have taken the hit.

    We know none of us are 'safe' but as our manager keeps telling us 'we're safe for the moment'. We do our jobs as best we can but now with the added pressure that soon we may all be looking for another job. Being kept in a constant state of fear may keep some compliant but for me it has the opposite effect and i just want to tell them can they stick 'the we're alright jack' up their sanctimonious arses, because they are the henchmen who will one day come and tell us the bad news also and then find themselves out of a job as there are not enough wards left for them to manage, or whatever it is they do in all their unending meetings. They don't manage of ward, we do.

    We will not be beaten, we will continue to deliver the best care we can under the circumstances and it won't be any thanks to them.

    Come and get us if you think you're hard enough because once the private sector has truly kicked in we will likely still be employed within that sector, but NHS managers will not, the private sector will only employ the best managers and most of the NHS managers will fall far short of that criteria.

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