It isn’t often that opportunities like this come along.
Solidarity, that word you rarely see apart from dashed in red on the pages of the Morning Star… is a good word. We shouldn’t be afraid of saying it, despite its historical, hammer and sickle connotations. At the moment, junior doctors are expressing solidarity with each other. Professionals will always have the potential to do this, unlike politicians in the present Westminster set-up, rather unfortunately in some cases. Meanwhile, I lose track of who exactly David Cameron and co. upsets from one week to the next. I’m Alright Jack dances unnervingly with Jack Boots. Honest, old-fashioned notions like Human Rights are defenestrated. The whole thing, like any rotting tomato, is decidedly seedy.
What should nurses do about the strike action? I can’t speak for others, but I would do the same as the doctors, in their position. I am sure a lot of nurses feel solidarity. But solidarity is something that a lot of people find uncomfortable. People don’t know where to put it, like an ornament that doesn’t go with the room decor. It’s then easy to forget about it somewhere – “oh, just shove it into one of those closets upstairs, along with the skeletons.” The Hippocratic oath makes striking problematic, although it ultimately it doesn’t destroy the possibility of doing so. Perhaps it’s easier to remind people what they will personally lose from a diminished medical workforce. Nurses, and also doctors, can be conservative with a small “c,”- “no strikes please, we’re British” – that kind of attitude. Moreover, taking the example of the London nursing milieu, so many of us are from abroad – not secure enough to rock the boat – or young and idealistic – constantly moving to new and exciting clinical areas. It makes supporting anything lasting rather hard.
But in this galling electoral cycle we can see the whole concept of the publicly employed health professional under threat. Nursing is often about weighing up different risks; the relative risk that someone will fall versus the risk of compromising their liberty. I would say that the risk that the Tory government pose to our country’s well-being is pretty great. Not only are the National Audit Office worried, but the social care world that surrounds the NHS, maintained by local councils, is also under threat.
But there are ways to fight back. Workplaces can only operate if there are people there working in them. In the world of industry this is no longer the case (through automation). But a day working in the NHS is a lesson in how individuals, rather than machines, can still come together and do amazing, miraculous things.
When Jeremy Hunt recently appeared wearing the garb of a ward hostess, or an HCA’s tunic, “working” on the ward, there is an acknowledgement of this very fact. He’s using a device the public recognise. Universally, and quite deservedly, despised by most health workers, he indirectly validates the “people power” within the NHS with these self-promotional actions. But people power is more than a gimmick – though it’s a naff phrase. You can withdraw your labour, as Hunt is just finding out.
To say all of these problems started when the Conservatives came into power would be a mistake. But rarely has a government been quite so selectively deaf to the concerns of Society. Nurses should support the junior doctors and not let the momentum fade. The solidarity can be built and the means to stop “Open Hunting Season” exist. I said before that it wasn’t often opportunities like this come along. The horizontal nature of modern day British healthcare is to our advantage. Let’s join the doctors on this horizon; let's be interdisciplinary about protecting our health service. Yes, it will be rainy and it will be January. Get a badge. Discuss it with your colleagues at work. Write an irate letter to The Sun or Daily Mail. And please come to the picket.