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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Competition culture left nurse celebrating ‘win’

Her pale, unhappy little face was one I hardly recognised – though I had known and loved its features all my life.

“I hate it in here,” my mother said. “I’m so miserable. It would have been much easier just to slip away, rather than fight.”

She’s in hospital, following a suspected heart attack, a nasty fall which broke her ankle, another confirmed heart attack and a distressing prolonged struggle to drag her back into the land of the living.

Then came the surgery to pin her ankle and goodness knows what other assorted treatments for conditions that seem to be cropping up with depressing regularity to test the natural, feisty resolve of my lovely, cheery, smart, witty 85-year-old mum.

No wonder she’s fed up.

“But you didn’t slip away.”

“No. I didn’t,” she said quietly.

The last week has been the worst we have known. For her, of course. Even though she has already successfully fought off cancer.

For her husband – my dad – who has spent 65 of his 85 years together with her and now weeps for the upsetting separation.

For my brother, his children – and for me – these last 10 days have drained our strength and challenged hope, filling the void with fear.

Fear is to be expected in any traumatic circumstance. It’s commonplace in most hospital situations. But there’s an added element when you’ve suddenly been thrust up close and personal with the NHS for a while.

Fear for its future is no longer the hovering spectre we’ve learned to live with. Fear for its present is inescapable.

Mum’s hospital ward is not in Cumbria. I suspect it’s pretty similar to any ward anywhere though. Functioning, in its own stumbling way, thanks to nurses run off their feet but making little discernible progress, doctors being ultra-careful to pass on only the vague kind of information families couldn’t use to sue them.

“Why isn’t she in her local hospital?” a staff nurse asked.

“They don’t take trauma patients any more.”

She punched the air: “Yes!”

Her celebration left us speechless. She was cheering a winning goal scored by her home team. Never mind the difficulties an elderly man would have visiting his wife; the £30 a week he’d have to pay to park his car in the one part of the hospital that will always run profitably like clockwork.

Never mind that the wheels of her ward look to be wobbling sufficiently to fall off any time soon. Competition is everything. Survival of the targeted fittest – staff, not patients – is paramount.

No, we can’t blame hard-pressed staff for our hospitals’ shortcomings and failings. No point in screaming blue murder when your mother’s heart-controlling medication and pain relief is found, hours after due, by the doctor on her bedspread.

“Better see the nurse,” he said, raising an eyebrow and handing the tablets over.

I did. She wasn’t overly concerned by my worries until told they’d been discovered by a doctor. Then a young nurse who’d left the drugs on a table Mum could neither reach nor see, because she’s registered blind, was given sharp rebuke.

Not their fault – at least not entirely. But it’s surely true now that they on the frontline have been tainted by the distant manipulations of politics and politicians with their ego-massaging mantras, penny-pinching targets and meaningless, brainwashing reorganisations.

I used to be indecisive about the NHS and its woes. I’m now absolutely clear. It’s high time politicians were banned from any further involvement in any part of it. The only bits they’ve managed to make work are the car parks and gift shops. Safe in their hands? It matters not which suit tells the lie – it will always be a lie.

All anyone needs to know is in whose healing hands they can entrust the life and wellbeing of a loved one. Those hands belong to no one fiercely fighting for votes but to the few – who given the chance and freedom to do so – are genuinely committed to fighting for life.

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