I feel that this is the single most important election in my lifetime so far. Bigger than the Falklands war, the Poll Tax, the miner’s strikes or the IRA and the peace process in my teenage years. Why? Because I think the NHS is at stake here. Depending on who gets in, the continued destruction of it as an institution will take place, OR, and I hope to whatever higher being is out there, that a government will be elected that will halt TTIP, repeal the atrocious 2012 Health & Social Care Act and finally reverse the process of privatisation and marketisation of the NHS.
As a mature student, I knew that starting University in February this year was going to be my last chance ever at becoming a nurse. Why? One word: bursaries.
Without a bursary there is absolutely no way I could hope to qualify. I will be 48 when I graduate and I had to think long and hard about whether university was the right thing to do when I have probably 20 years left of my working life.
Imagine starting the last 20 years of your working life with a debt of probably £50,000, a mortgage to pay, a family to look after and no one else around to bail you out? You just couldn’t do it. The lack of bursaries is going to hit mature students hard, many I have spoken to say they feel the same, it would be impossible. It’s not just going to affect mature students. It will impact on those students whose families may not be financially able to support them through the three years of qualifying.
Cuts to nursing bursaries and the issue of migrant workers in hospitals will create an even bigger staffing crisis than there already is. When I worked on an acute medical ward at a local hospital, at least 35% of staff were non-British. With potentially less students entering the profession, and without EU/International Nurses, Doctors, and Nursing Assistants our wards are in danger of not functioning safely. We need real action to staff our hospitals properly and not just empty unobtainable promises.
I grew up with parents that spent most of their working lives in the NHS, working for 6 hospitals in the Bristol area. All 6 are shut now. I had always wanted to be a nurse, to follow my Mum’s footsteps, ever since I was a child, but life didn’t quite work out that way. Then, five years ago, something happened that changed me and made me determined to change my career. When my partner became taken ill suddenly, cutbacks meant that a non-medically trained 999 call handler “triaged” her and made the potentially fatal decision to make her the lowest priority possible and hung up, refusing to send an ambulance. He missed all clues that she had in fact suffered a massive brain haemorrhage. It then became a battle to get her to hospital by ambulance, and for her condition to be taken seriously. Until a young junior doctor, totally exasperated by her treatment that afternoon finally diagnosed what had happened. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember him shouting at someone that she needed to be scanned NOW, and I remember him calmly explaining what had happened and how life threateningly serious the situation was. I remember the Australian surgeon who operated on her and saved her life that day, within literally minutes of the diagnosis. I remember so many of the nurses faces that cared for her for the weeks following this, some never tiring of my questions and concerns, always there for her, and me. Potentially fatal mistakes like this are being repeated due to lack of funding.
In the last year, we have seen unprecedented queues at our A&Es, with corridors as treatment areas becoming the norm.
I vowed 5 years ago I would try to raise awareness of brain aneurysms and haemorrhages but I also quickly realised I was in the wrong job. I left my well paid office job and took on a minimum wage working as a Carer and then a Nursing Assistant. There are times I really wonder whether I should be doing this, for the sake of my own sanity. But I think of the neuro team that saved my partner that day, and I think no, I’m doing this for every patient like her, every loved one behind those patients, and every nurse like my mum and the fabulous nurses that I’ve ever had the honour of working with.
Over the last two years I have become involved in politics, for the first time since my 20s, attending rallies, marches and meetings. A few weeks ago there was a talk at UWE Bristol by Protect the NHS, which was inspirational and thought provoking. I’d recommend watching it, via the UWE Glenside Facebook page.
I guess if I’m honest that I’m disappointed that more people aren’t involved with politics; seeing it as something for other people, something they can’t change, or they don’t understand the issues, or what’s happened in the past and the effect on our futures. This doesn’t just apply to younger students, but people of every age, including, most frustratingly, those working on the frontline in our hospitals. The word politics maybe conjures up politicians in suits that don’t really speak for many of us. But politics, with a small p, affects every part of our lives, from the day we are born (thank you NHS), to our first day at school, university, our rights at work, the tax we pay, our marital/relationship status, everything to the times we are ill & need looking after or, the day we die & where we rest finally.
This is my plea to everyone, get out there, get informed, start making choices for you, for the good of us all, for our beloved NHS. Get talking to others, listen to what they say. Look for speakers, meetings, rallies. Read books like “NHS for sale”, or reports by the King’s Fund such as “Never again?” Look at websites like fullfacts.org to make informed decisions. Question the things you hear politicians say, use those critical thinking skills you are learning at University to hear what they are saying behind the words and the smiles. Get out there, get involved, and most importantly vote. If you don’t we might not have an NHS much longer.