Whereâs it gone? Youâve got more chance of finding beef in your beef-burger than care in the caring profession.
Nothing about the report into the Stafford hospital was more soul-destroying than that single word in this sentence: âThere was a lack of care, compassion, humanity and leadershipâ.
We are all children at heart when we are sick or injured â it matters not whether you have just been pulled from a mangled car or fallen victim to some as yet unknown disease that makes you feel like death warmed up â what we want more than anything is a substitute Mother to mop our fevered brow, hold our hand, and tell us everything is going to be alright.
We are adult enough to understand that the Doctor may not be able to save us, may not even take the pain away. Mortality rates are neither here nor there in the great scheme of things; we know perfectly well that some people may die, may be beyond the limit of medical knowledge. Telling us that one hospital has a 6.7% mortality rate for one type of operation against another hospital which has a 14.6% mortality rate for the same operation doesnât tell us whether all their patients were equally ill, nor whether any of the patients suffered from complicating factors. It encourages us to believe that hospitals are like car factories; that they should be able to achieve robotically similar results.
Whilst we merely hope that the Doctors will be able to help us, pray even, we do take it as a given that someone within those walls will attend to the frightened child lurking within us. Someone will sit with us, talk to us as we slip into the unknown, not just report having found us dead at 6am when they came on duty, carefully filling in the correct forms. We want someone to make us a cup of tea at 4am as we lie awake filled with trepidation for the operation ahead â not to fill in more forms explaining that yes, they had heard we were so thirsty we were drinking water from a vase, but do we understand how much paperwork they have to fill in on every shift?
Would we have been so angry if we had heard that the Stafford nurses had failed in their duty to fill in paperwork? Would we have erupted with rage if it had turned out that they didnât all have matching uniforms because âof the cutsâ? Would we care if it turned out that the nurse holding a sick childâs hand as she went into theatre didnât actually have the correct paperwork to work in the UK, hadnât been through the âdiversity training courseâ because she was late off duty that day â too involved in explaining to an elderly man the right way to manage his new stoma?
I donât think we would. I think it is the lack of that basic compassion for the fear and the pain and discomfort that being sick involves that has gripped us all.
We shouldnât be âinconveniencesâ in the smooth bureaucratic progress of a busy hospital. Weâre not cars, waiting for repair. We are human beings.
You can probably predict what I am going to say next. Yep, youâre right, it really isnât like that in France Iâm glad to say. The land that invented bureaucracy; that likes its paperwork in triplicate at all times. Theyâve never lost sight of compassion being the prime need in any hospital though. Their Doctors are no better trained than the English version; no less fallible; the much vaunted death rates reasonably comparable, though marginally better. By God, Iâd eat my own Raccoon tail if a report detailing âlack of compassionâ was ever written about a French hospital.
Family and Friends visiting arenât grudgingly treated as a necessary evil to be admitted between the hours of 2pm and 4pm. They are there at all hours of the day â and night. 10, 12 round some beds at times. The nurses will apologise if they need to temporarily uproot them to carry out some medical procedure â and that of course makes a vast difference. For if your daughter or sister are sitting by your bed when you want that cup of tea â they go and get it for you. It frees the nurses up, and there are no health and safety rules about family using the kitchen. Every ward has âcotsâ, small barely comfortable extra beds that fit between the real beds for family that need to sleep overnight. Of course they get in the way, but I never heard anyone complain about it. It gives the nurses more time to spend with those who do not have such family â and they do spend that time.
There isnât the same reticence to touch another human being that English culture engenders. Nurses will freely cuddle you, stroke an arm or a leg in a consoling gesture. Male as well as female nurses â it did feel peculiar being propped up on a bed pan by the strong arm of a male nurse with an excellent supply of jokes, when I was too weak to sit upright unaided, but I needed that help â and the jokes â and was grateful not to have been left to fend for myself by a distracted nurse too busy to stay with me. Perhaps it is a cultural thing, all that kissing and hugging that the French indulge in, or maybe it is that they donât see waiting on another human being, âdoingâ for them, as somehow subservient and demeaning. Witness the difference between a French waiter, ever attentive, and the English version who appears to be doing you a favour throwing a plate of food in front of you.
Now Cameron thinks that âbeing paid by compassionâ will change the culture? That compassion should be something you get a bonus for? An extra tenner at Christmas for having remembered to ask the patient in bed 6 âthree timesâ in front of the line manager whether she wanted sugar in her tea? For crying out loud â how about instant dismissal for any nurse found to demonstrate a lack of compassion; unfit for purpose? Because that is their purpose; and Iâll hear no wailing about understaffing, or âcutsâ, or pension rights affecting their morale. No compassion, no job.
Give families the free run of hospitals too, day and night. Sure they are messy, noisy, inconvenient things; but they are also dedicated, free of charge, quality control inspectors.
Cut out all the âclass warâ nonsense that obsesses politicians and affects the entire country. This idea that some jobs are demeaning, that âservantâ is an insulting word. Nurses are, should be, our temporary servants for when we are too sick to do things for ourselves. We trust them to do that when we are at our most vulnerable. That some of them have betrayed that trust is unspeakable perfidy.
I really cannot believe that Cameron thinks the answer is to reward those who donât betray that trust, and still leave us at the mercy of those that do.
Knowing it will be reflected in their paypacket is no consolation if you find yourself in the un-tender hands of someone who isnât that bothered about the bonus.