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.