Before I start, I want to clarify that my blogs and the ideas and opinions represented within them are my own personal opinion and not those of Nursing Times. I mention this because I think that there might be a few people who disagree with what I’m about to say, but with nursing and the NHS being in the state it is now I feel that it is my #PublicDuty to use my voice.
I want to use my voice to state that neither the Conservatives nor their previous coalition partners the Liberal Democrats or the equally divisive UKIP will protect the NHS, its patients or its staff, if any of them are allowed to have a hand in the future government this June.
I do not state this just because of my own personal opinion but because all the above parties have made statements that show their disregard for the state of the crisis that our profession faces.
The Conservatives’ Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, thinks that he is protecting jobs by keeping pay low, but what’s the point if no one wants those jobs, evidenced by an ever-rising 24,000 vacant nursing posts?
He thinks that more people would train to be a nurse if they removed the NHS bursary, a spectacular failure then if applications for posts are down 23%. Last Wednesday, he declared that the NHS had never been safer. Why then are the number of ’never events’, a key indicator of patient safety, rising under his tenure?
The NMC code says that we have to keep up to date with the evidence base. It states that we have to escalate our concerns if patient safety is at risk. These last two years of a Conservative government, following five years of a Con-Lib coalition, have shown us what happens to our patients and our own personal safety under any future government with them as members. It should come as no surprise given the links that major politicians in both parties have to the private healthcare sector and it is why I believe that it is an evidence-based proposition to say that our patients and our profession should not vote for either party.
Not if they want safe, evidence-based care.
UKIP, always a favourite amongst some of my colleagues in nursing, is also another no-brainer. Paul Nuttall may say that he supports the NHS now that he is the leader of his party but that was not always the case. How anyone can consider voting for a party that would, in my opinion, do even more damage to the NHS is beyond me.
I am asking, all of the nurses, midwives, students and other allied healthcare professionals who may be reading this article to really think about what has happened to the state of their profession and working environment over the past 30 years.
Some of us, including myself, have not been alive that long but it was not so long ago that all political parties accepted that some form of private involvement in the NHS was necessary for its long-term sustainability.
It was not so long ago that I saw no hope for the continual and gradual decline of our health service and as a result our profession. It’s got so bad that the RCN, probably our most conservative union, has begun to openly survey its membership alongside Unison and Unite to find out whether or not nurses should undertake industrial action.
Is this really what should be happening in the 5th richest country in the world?
On social media, I constantly hear older nurses say that we shouldn’t be discussing politics, that our profession should not be political and that we shouldn’t be considering a ballot for industrial action. Everything, especially the concept of universally available, nationally provided and funded healthcare, is political. Further to this, democracy only works if there is an expression of and debate of other people’s ideas, otherwise nothing changes.
Finally, I cannot count how many nurses I have met in person or on social media who have wanted their respective union to do something about their awful working conditions and yet now won’t even fill in a three-question survey when they have the opportunity to put their point across.
If you don’t want to strike, fill in your survey. If you want to ‘work to rule’, fill in the survey. If you want to go further than that, fill in the survey!
To be clear for those reading, I am biased. I have been and will continue to be a nursing activist. It is our duty to be active in the public eye. If not for our patients, then for our own mutual interest. We should not allow others to speak for us, doing so means that we have lost the opportunity to say the things that we believe in.
I am also, as I’m sure most people are aware, an ardent defender of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. Prior to the past few years, I would honestly have struggled to endorse the Labour party for similar reasons to the other major political parties. Private Finance Investments, the increased role of the internal market and foundation trusts are all examples of policies where I think that Blair/Brown’s Labour, wilfully or not, contributed to the dismantling of the NHS.
That changed with the election of Jeremy Corbyn, the first leader of a major political party in decades with a record of continual defence of our profession and our health system.
I have campaigned for and with him on multiple occasions because I believe he is the best chance for our profession and the NHS to not just survive but improve. This is not a single issue election, Brexit is not the problem that faces this country. Corbyn’s failings as a leader are an example of the work that the public needs to do to make political parties democratically run by their membership. How can you expect a political party to make sense when a proportion of its MPs are an anathema to the majority of the members?
Regardless of whoever you do or do not support in this election season, in my opinion it is not just important to vote, but also to be active within the party you are supporting. Politicians work for us and democracy isn’t just about turning up to put a cross next to someone every five (or in this case two) years. If you don’t think that a party, or a union, works for you, change it.
It’s hard, I understand, to be active within these organisations when we have to work or study but it was our ancestors’ commitment, after decades of world wars and economic decline that they created the movement which birthed our public services.
We owe it to them, if not ourselves, to take part in those same British traditions of democracy.