Friday, 5 July 2013

Happy birthday NHS: Battered but not beaten

Today the NHS turns 65. My family have been working for the NHS since the very beginning - my grandparents met as nurses in a psychiatric hospital in the NHS's infancy in the late 40s. 65 years on, my mum is coming up to retirement after over 40 years service as a nurse and midwife, and I am soon to qualify as a children's nurse. People often tell me it must run in the blood, to have three generations working as nurses, but one of the reasons I chose to go into nursing is that I know from my mum and her parents that despite all the downsides - long hours, low pay, budget cuts - all three of them had long and fulfilling careers doing jobs that they loved and were good at.

On a personal level, having been a type 1 diabetic for almost 11 years, the NHS saves me on a daily basis. I don't have to worry about the costs of my life-saving medications, or going without so I can pay my rent or put food on the table. It sounds so simple but in many countries of the world, this just isn't true. Even in the USA, there are people with life-threatening conditions like diabetes going without insulin or blood glucose testing equipment just to make ends meet. I'm also an incredibly clumsy human being, a trait I have in common with my three siblings. Between us we have racked up a huge number of visits to A&E, broken limbs, head injuries, you name it. Not once have my family had to consider whether we could afford to go and get that wrist x-rayed or that wound dressed. We take it for granted. When my brother was a child and had severe asthma, the NHS was there. When my mum had appendicitis, the NHS was there. When my granny fell and broke her hip, the NHS was there. I could go on. Every person and family in this country owes a debt of gratitude to the NHS, and I honestly believe that we as a nation don't take the time to think about what a wonderful institution it is - healthcare for all, regardless of wealth, gender, age, race or any other factors. 

In recent years, the NHS has come under a lot of pressure to improve, with some legitimate criticism: after all, after 65 years we can't expect it to work in the same way as it did when so much about our society and lives has changed. But the changes that are happening now are moving the NHS away from it's roots not for the benefit of patients, but for one goal only: to make money. The NHS is being dismantled bit by bit and sold off to the highest bidder, with no regard to it's original aims and the good it has done for so many. And after years of austerity, the British public are too tired and worn down to object. The NHS is like so many of us - it has it's flaws, and sometimes it struggles to carry on under the huge load it is bearing. But like us, the NHS may be battered but it is not beaten. As Nye Bevan so prophetically put it all those years ago: "The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it." That fight is now upon us, and the only question is whether we as a nation still have that faith to stand and defend it.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Liebster Love

Thanks the the lovely Hannah of the oldjawjaw, who gave me a Liebster award for small bloggers (hurrah!) and apologies for uselessness in taking quite so long to pass it on. The rules: post the award logos, answer the short questionnaire, and pass it along to two other bloggers (who must have fewer than 200 followers). Let's have a go then.

1. Favourite book? I love books. Pretty much all books. If I have to narrow it down, Goodnight Mr Tom was my favourite childhood book, and I have extreme love for Whistling for the Elephants by Sandi Toksvig and The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson. I'm going to be very restrained and stop there.

2. Do you read real books or ebooks? Almost exclusively real books, and whilst I'd like to say it's for noble arty reasons, the truth is I am a broke student and cannot afford a Kindle or similar, and I don't like travelling with my laptop because that's how broke the last one (too many train journeys). Also: large and heavy. Happily, cheap paperbacks in charity shops are my friends.

3. Which art form offers you the truest expression for yourself? I don't feel any of them do to be honest. Probably writing comes closest. But with writing as well as making music, arts and crafts, etc etc, I am constantly frustrated that I can't express myself as well as I would like to. I probably express myself best with my large gob.

4. Favourite genre? I love a good historical drama, even better if it has a bit of romance and a bit of crime thrown in. I blame my mother. But, as above, I will literally read anything.

5. What makes you laugh? Depending on my mood, dark twisted humour or absolutely ridiculous slapstick.

6. What makes you cry? Ooh now I'm a bit of a toughie for crying. I have yet to find a film that makes me cry, and the books that do so are few and far between. Death does. So does too much alcohol when I'm not in a good place.

7. What is the one thing you can't do that you'd love to be able to do? Pee standing up. 

8. If you were given an opportunity to spend one more day with a friend or family member who has passed away, what would you do? I would go to Burnbake with Maisie, sit around the campfire, sing all the old songs, tell her I love her and sláinte over G&Ts one last time.

9. Do you write? I write all the time. Good, bad, indifferent, fiction, non-fiction. Doesn't matter as long as it's coming out on the page.

Pass it along:

Numero uno: a delightful new discovery in Carrie at carriecreatesconfidently, who writes some of the most beautiful poetry I have read in a long time. I went to uni with this marvellous lady, and was previously unaware of her mad poetic skillz. Read it, you won't regret it.

And secondly, Katie at size1614stone. She is eccentric and lovely and writes about a fantastic combination of feminist issues and fashion frippery. I love it and her, and the two of us must go for cocktails again soon.

So there you have it! Hope you all vastly enjoyed that, and I promise I will get better at more frequent blog posts. This nursing lark doesn't half take up a lot of time...

Monday, 21 January 2013

I am the 1 in 4

I am one of the 25% of people who suffer from a mental health problem. It seems like a shockingly high number doesn’t it? When statistics come out for other illnesses such as cancer or type 2 diabetes, no-one bats an eyelid, because we all know someone who has been affected by these. Often, someone among our nearest and dearest. But mental health problems? For many, they are things that happen to other people. There is still such a stigma in our society that people don’t feel comfortable talking about their mental health. Look around at your friends, family, neighbours, colleagues. On average, 1 in 4 will have or have had some issue with their mental health, but we never hear about most of them because people are too ashamed or embarrassed to “come out” as mentally ill.

I have struggled with severe depression on and off for over four years. Within that period there have been good times, and there have been bad times. I honestly don’t think I would still be here today without the support of the people around me. And yet, most people I know have no idea I am depressed, and I wouldn’t dream of talking to them about it. For the sake of contrast, I am also a type 1 diabetic. My family all know this, my friends all know this, and many colleagues and acquaintances do too. I am very open with my diabetes, and happy to talk about it. So why the difference? These are both long term, chronic conditions that affect my everyday life. The fact is that I don’t fear judgement for my diabetes. When I tell people I am depressed, I worry that they are thinking I am weak or pathetic. That I am using it as an excuse. Even that I am a danger to myself. I worry that people will look at me and treat me differently. That blossoming friendships or relationships may flounder because I have too much emotional baggage. And the saddest part is that these are not just paranoid concerns. These are real reactions that I have had from real people.

So why I am I putting this out there for the whole internet to read if I am so scared of how people will react? Because this is not how it should be. I don’t believe that people that react this way are bad people, or are trying to hurt me. A lot of people simply don’t how to respond because it’s a new experience for them. They are wary, thanks to media portrayals of those with a mental illness as either dangerous, pathetic, or trying to beat the system. They are scared of the unknown. It doesn’t have to be this way. People need to know about mental illness, how to talk about it, and how to support those affected. We can change and save lives. It’s Time to Talk.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Why nurses have stopped caring

It's a very interesting time to be going into nursing.

Everyone has heard the horror stories over the last few years, and particularly more recently, and there is this huge public perception that nurses just don't care about their patients anymore. And there is a lot of truth behind the stories - in too many situations, the care people are receiving is simply unacceptable. But I find it very difficult to believe that most nurses start their careers without a genuine desire to care for people. Let's be honest, the financial rewards aren't exactly enormous, the hours are long and it's always going to be a stressful job. There has to be something else driving people to take up nursing in the first place, and I believe that the vast majority become nurses because they want to help people. Certainly that's true for me, and for my coursemates, and for many nurses I know.

So how do people with such good intentions end up treating their patients with a total lack of care and compassion? Because the systems grinds them down. Because they spend years overworked and underappreciated, because there is never enough staff and never enough time, because every time something does happen and uproar rightly ensues, the sticking-plaster solution is to bring in more regulation and more paperwork, resulting in even less time for patients. I'm not excusing in any way the behaviour of nurses such as those involved in the failings at Mid-Staffordshire Trust or responsible for the care of Ann Clwyd's husband more recently in the news, but sometimes it's hard to remember that nurses are human too. As humans we all reach a breaking point. And when it's the very nature of the "caring profession" that is causing nurses to lose their compassion and care, then things need to change.

I'm currently on my first placement on a children's ward, and I have to say I am absolutely loving it. I am exhausted and stressed, but I really feel like this is the career for me. But what is to stop someone like me, at the very start of their career and hoping to make a difference to people's lives, turning into a nurse who doesn't care a few years down the line? To be honest, I don't know, and that scares me. Right now, I cannot even imagine myself showing such disregard for my patients wellbeing, but I bet that the nurses involved at Stafford Hospital were enthusiastic and well meaning students once. Vilifying nurses who fall short is not going to change anything. It is the system that needs changing. In a time of ever increasing cuts, and the stretching of funds and people power, nurses are never going to be able to spend the time and attention on patients that they need and deserve. The more cuts that the NHS takes, and there are more to come, the worse the situation is going to get. The government needs to wake up and realise this, before another generation of healthcare workers get disillusioned and stop caring. Because caring is our job, and if we can't do that, then we've failed.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Musings on graduation, mental health, and the next part of The Plan.

It's been a very interesting summer.

At the end of June, I graduated from uni. There have been times over the past three years where I never believed that could happen. The irony of battling against depression whilst attempting to study for a psychology degree has never been lost on me. My years in Durham have been an absolute roller coaster ride, and that takes in the good times as well as the bad. The low points have been very low indeed, but when things have been good, I have had the time of my life. I fell in love with a city and the best college that ever was, lived away from home for the first time, learned about myself, had relationships, made the best friends anyone could hope for, danced, drank, laughed, cried, and somehow managed to pick up a degree along the way. I can't put into words quite how much I will miss Durham, and Chad's in particular, and in some ways it is still sinking in that that part of my life is over. But with every ending comes a new beginning and I left in June with two months stretching ahead of me before the next part of the plan came into being.

To be honest, I didn't have a lot planned for the summer. The aim was to get some kind of job and earn a bit of money, and to sort myself out for moving to London in September. The first part sort of happened, the second not so much. Very little was thought ahead, but I have ended up having a truly wonderful summer, with friends and with family, across England and Ireland, between festivals, weddings, parties, babysitting, theme parks and camping. With all this busy-ness, I haven't really though much about the next step...

Now it is six days before my nursing course starts and I am still without accommodation, I haven't packed and I'm generally starting to get nervous. What if I'm not cut out for this? What if I can't deal with the workload? What if I don't make any friends? What if, without the support network I have in Southampton and in Durham, I hide myself away and fail? What if the depression sucks me back down into that black hole that has taken so much from me? I'm not usually a worrier - actually that's a lie, I'm an inveterate worrier, but it's usually about others, not myself. On the other hand, this is the biggest change I've had in a long time. I'm now at the point of giving myself a metaphorical slap on the wrist, and telling myself to stop being so stupid and enjoy the ride. I guess that will have to do for now. Onward with the next part of the adventure, wish me luck!!

Monday, 14 May 2012

New Beginnings and Winnings...

It's been a while since I've had any kind of blog, so bear with me whilst I get back into the swing of things!

I coxed my first regatta of this year's rowing season yesterday. Yes, I am that small and noisy person who sits at the front of the boat and steers and shouts. It suits me perfectly. I've been coxing for my college boat club for three years now, and although I do it all year round, I absolutely love regatta season in the summer. Not just because the weather is better (although coxing is decidedly less fun at -12 degrees...) but because the races we compete in during the winter are head races, meaning they are timed pieces and we are racing against the clock. Regattas in the summer are over shorter distances and we compete directly with another crew. First one over the finish line wins the race and goes through to the next round. I know I cox better, and I'm pretty sure almost every rower I know rows better in regattas than in head races, there is so much adrenaline and sense of competition that you push yourself to be the best you can be.

So yesterday, my girls got a bye to the final of their category, as there were only three crews competing. We were only expecting one race, whether a win or a lose. I have never coxed a race that has been so well matched before. We were neck and neck with the other crew the whole way down the course, and as we crossed the finish line, none of us knew who had won. And as it turned out, neither did the umpires. They decided it was a dead heat and sent us all back to the start line to re-race. About 20 strokes into the second race, the marshals starting yelling at us all to stop rowing - the steamer pleasure boat that stops for no-one was heading up the river. For a third time, we lined up at the start line, to restart our re-race. Understandably, things we starting to get a bit tense by this point! Again it was incredibly close, but my girls rowed their little hearts out, with me shouting so hard I started seeing stars, and we pulled away from the other crew right at the end to win by just a few inches.

As we'd won the category, the girls all won points meaning that we are promoted to the next category up for the rest of the season. We also all got lovely shiny medals. I have never been a sporty kinda gal - probably something to do with my complete lack of hand-eye coordination, propensity to injure myself and ability to fall over whilst standing still (no jokes...). When I was growing up, I particularly hated team games as I always felt I was letting the rest of the team down by aforementioned uselessness. Since coming to university and getting involved in coxing, I have absolutely loved the fact that this is something I can do and do well, and that I am an important part of the team - not doing the same job as everyone else but an important job nonetheless. Rowers generally tend to forget the cox and what they contribute to the boat, but after a win like yesterday's they were all very appreciative of me as well as each other. The whole crew pulling together to get those medals is a fantastic feeling, and makes all the early mornings in snow, hail and rain absolutely worth it.

I'm still riding high on the buzz and have a very croaky voice after so much shouting, but bring on the next regatta! :)