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The phoney war just got a bit more real


Of course it’s not really a war; this assault on public service. It’s not like there are snipers on rooftops picking off primary school teachers as they go to work.

University lecturers and firefighters are not being rounded up and detained under laws that ban reading or the rescuing of stranded cats. There isn’t even that much name calling, although a nursing student did tell me that when she got on the bus after a shift recently some people behind her began a loud and condemning conversation about how unfair public service pensions were.

But it’s not really a war. Nobody is getting killed; not directly at least. It’s more like an awful lot of hysterical people charging up the hill with pitchforks and torches threatening to lynch all the useful evil folk at the top.

And if you happen to be at the top of the hill going about your business, looking after patients for example or doing some minor surgery, you may look out the window and ask a colleague,”What’s the matter with them? They ought to be careful with those pitchforks or they’ll have someone’s eye out.”

Against this backdrop it’s interesting to hear care services minister Paul Burstow call on nurse managers to ensure care staff have the right attitude to deliver dignified care, regardless of resources. It is interesting because at its heart it does what all modern government, indeed all bad leadership does: it demands that people take responsibility without having power and in so doing it establishes clearly just who will be to blame if things don’t work out.

I was at a nursing conference this week in Sussex. It was a very clinically focused day consisting of a wide range of mental health and learning disability nurses presenting innovation and initiatives that have improved services for mental health patients this last year.

What struck me most about the work they were doing was that it wasn’t designed to maintain standards in the face of economic assault but rather they were developing work that improved care regardless of the shortsighted guesswork that passes for healthcare policy. In short, nurses and their colleagues were not being reduced - yet - to being disempowered guardians of a health service being increasingly defined as a drain on taxpayers’ cash, but rather they were making things better. Not defending standards but improving them.

In the face of that sort of commitment, patronising reminders from bureaucrats about managing nursing “attitudes” are easy to dismiss as trite. Indeed perhaps the only telling thing to take from such comments is the suggestion that providing dignified care has little to do with staff numbers. That is right up there with saying you don’t need a bat to play cricket, you just need the right “attitude” and a good imagination.

I feel a great deal of admiration for nurses who manage to make things better when the material circumstances they work in are threatened.

That seems to be the challenge many nurses set themselves. It is a quality the bureaucracy of government and the torch carrying villagers really do not deserve.


Readers' comments (8)

  • It is a quality the bureaucracy of government and the torch carrying villagers really do not deserve, I could not have said that better myself!

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  • For the life of me I cannot understand why public servants seem to suddenly have become the target for everyones anger over the economic crisis. isnt it conveniant for the bankers though that the Government have decided that we should be the ones to pay?

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  • To be fair Sarah I think everyone has been a target, it's just that the public services - especially those on the front line like Nurses - are the easiest targets and so therefore take the heaviest hits. Unfortunately at the end of the day, everything always revolves around money, noone sees the fact that it is the public services who are saving lives, healing people, protecting them; they only see that we are not producing money, and therefore are not worth saving. Untill they need us, that is. Like our man up there said, we are services that many people in this society, particularly those in power, really do not deserve.

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  • well said mike I totally agree, we are an easy target and I think we need to support one another more, because there are jobs to be lost

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  • I have commented many a- time that 'people' need to be careful, or they will get the health service they deserve.

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  • Steve Williams

    Mark -you are spot on with your comment...

    That is right up there with saying you don’t need a bat to play cricket, you just need the right “attitude” and a good imagination."

    Excellent journalism.

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  • Great piece Mark. Phoney war...kind of, completely unnecessary......absolutely (

    Bad leadership I'd say, just good old authoratarian bullying behaviour. Much like the company I work for who also waded in with that flag flying and have predictably proved time and time again their lack of leadership, managerial and compassionate understanding, just as this tory government will.

    I'm not convinced we're more of any easy target because this is party politics not picking on the weakest public servants, although overall Tories will always target the weakest. That's besides the lack of mandate, however Mark was doing a good job of inspiring the workers and I'm getting all political.

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  • Unfortunately this was entirely predictable. History shows us that in times of economic difficulty governments and pitchfork bearing people will always target a soft group in society to scapegoat and vilify. This is a glib way of redirecting anger away from themselves and the more powerful people who are really to blame. We and our unions need to understand this to be able to defend ourselves against it.

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