As an NHS employee, I’m meant to have been in purdah since the dissolution of Parliament. I probably didn’t do purdah very well – people like me tend not to. Now the election is over I assume I can say what I like (though obviously nothing I say is ever anyone’s view but my own).
I began working in the NHS four years ago, when I started doctoral training. Before that I was on an NHS placement as part of my Master’s degree. Before that I worked for a charity and before that in a specialist NHS personality disorder unit (the only one of its kind in Europe).
In my non-work life, I am a charity trustee. It’s a young charity – only five years old – and it aims to help those in poverty. We give grants; we fund a food bank. It horrifies me how many people use that food bank.
I am, as you will gather, a believer in collectivism, in socialism, in giving a damn about your fellow citizen. So obviously I have watched the dismantling of the public sector (and health and social care in particular) with a growing sense of fury.
I have seen people who have been homeless for years, despite having children, because they were declined for re-housing. I have seen people fall between two boroughs and there be a tussle over who needs to help them (and pay for that help) because of the way services are now commissioned. I have seen people with no food in the cupboards and no money to buy any. I have been told that Social Services ‘can’t see anyone until the new financial year’ because there’s no money. I have been told that unless you can pay £18 an hour for care you can’t have any because the budget is all gone.
And these are just my stories. My colleagues will tell you of people who can’t come to clinics because they can’t afford the bus fare; of people whose HIV treatment is ineffective because they can’t buy enough nutritious food to maintain their immunity. People are dying every day because of these gaps in the system, and that’s without taking into consideration the massive increase in suicides.
I confess I wasn’t that hopeful that the manifesto pledges related to mental health would come to much but I did think that a Labour government would at least turn the tide and end this dreadful privatisation and commodification of healthcare. I felt pretty positive – not an outright win, but maybe a Labour/SNP coalition which scrapped austerity (and Trident with it). The BBC coverage last night was as patronising as ever and I soon gave up, although not before I had seen that awful exit poll. I went to bed, hoping it would be ok.
In the office today, all the talk is of the end of the NHS, the collapse in living standards, the impossibility of being able to find affordable housing. On Twitter, it’s the end of the union, the lurch to the right, the need for electoral reform. And in truth, I feel absolutely broken.
In 2010 I had some hope that the Lib Dems would moderate the Tories. They didn’t, or, at least, not enough. Mental health services have been battered while the need for those services has shot through the roof. Our services are being crushed in a way that physical health services are not. I work with older people, already marginalised and seen as lacking value – the rhetoric is ‘get treatment so you can get back to work’, but someone who is 86 with dementia probably won’t be doing that, and in this political climate their value is constantly questioned because there’s no economic case for looking after them well – and sometimes it’s difficult. All mental health is sometimes difficult, as all health is generally – we tend to see people who are ill or in pain and we try to help them. Sometimes we can’t – I can’t magically take dementia away, or stop you from getting older, much as I sometimes wish I could. But I try to do what I can to make life that bit less hard. All my colleagues do – whatever lies you are told, believe this: some of the kindest, most decent people I know work in health and I am proud to know them and have them as my colleagues. Believe this too – we can’t create a beanstalk without beans. We can’t help you without the necessary infrastructure and support. Some of the people I see will get better; some won’t; some will learn to manage better; some won’t. We can’t work miracles. But I love my job and my patients and I do my utmost, as do my colleagues, to do the best we can for them all.
But we can’t do it alone. We need politicians to support us and our patients. We need them to understand the causes and impact of poverty; to understand that living in crap housing on a volatile estate is bad for mental health; that caring for parents and partners places untold strain on people; that people with dementia are entitled to as much help as people with cancer. We need them to understand that we can’t look after more people properly unless we have more resources. We need them to understand the feeling of helplessness that can arise when you go to see someone and you can’t do much for them, because they need a social care package but you can’t get one because there is no money and all you can do is watch them cries tears of despair and try to support them in any way you can, no matter how feeble your attempts to do so seem.
This morning, I can barely contain my fury and my dejection. I don’t know what health and social care will look like in five years but I don’t believe it will be good for staff or patients (and I’m going to say quite bluntly that if you don’t take care of your staff they will not be able to take care of your patients. We’re sort of vital for good outcomes, in the same way that teachers are vital for good education).
So desolation is the word of the day, it seems. But the good thing about fury is that it can be harnessed. They only win if you let them. So let’s fight them – their injustice, their self-interest, their demonization of the poor and the vulnerable. Farage and co might question my Britishness (what with being Asian and all), but, dammit, I refuse to live in a Britain which screws the many over for the benefit of the few. I am very fortunate to have some good friends and colleagues who believe in the same principles as I do and who are willing to speak out against it. So we recover from the shock (sadly no awe) and start again. We write and we protest and we ask awkward questions and beat our little fists. And it might not be effective, but that’s not the point. Because what a certain breed of Tory fails to realise is that some people care more about societal good than their own back pockets.
So. A principled, angry army of psychologists, medics, liberals, lefties and assorted others is mobilising. I don’t know what it’s like to be at the bottom of the pile, but, for all those people who are frightened of what the future holds, know this: there are people out there who care and who are committed to doing our best to fight with you, because it is the right thing to do. We might not win, but we certainly won’t go down without a damn good fight. And if we lose, we lose together. Because that’s all that matters – that we stand together; that we support each other and that we try to create a fairer, more equal society. You are not alone.