From Ward 25: personal notes on the destruction of the NHS

Joyce Wainwright died aged 88 in a lively and friendly acute admission ward on 4 February, surrounded by her family. Here, her daughter Hilary reports on her encounter with the NHS, and reflects on the planned reforms.
Hilary Wainwright
10 February 2011

Joyce Wainwright died aged 88 in the lively and friendly acute admissions ward 25 at 'Jimmy's’ – St James Teaching Hospital – in Leeds on 4 February, surrounded by her family. Joyce and her husband Richard Wainwright, the Liberal MP who died eight years ago, were great supporters of democratic causes including Charter 88 (Richard was a key member of the executive committee after it was founded) and in a modest way openDemocracy. Here their daughter Hilary reports on her encounter with the NHS and we publish it to salute her remarkable parents. Joyce herself was a nurse in London during the war.


I spent the last few days of my mum’s life with her in amongst the hubbub of ward 25 and although my mind was busy with other thoughts and my vision perhaps a little blurred, I noted down my first hand observations of the attempt to destroy the NHS.

I must begin by emphasizing that most of the staff, at every level, were immensely caring and skilled. They focused on doing everything they could for the patients – and two health care workers, not nurses but essential to patients' regular care, stand out as amazing human beings, willing and able to use their own judgement and give that extra help that makes a difference, even if it breaks a rule or two.

But the ability to give such care is near breaking point. A particularly friendly doctor came to see us in the rather tatty 'relatives room' after it was all over. As she was going I said, “Do let us know how we can help you resist the cuts”. She stayed, saying “Please, we need all the help we can get. Our resources are stretched and patients are increasingly complaining and getting angry. But they attack and threaten us. I want them to complain to the right people so that the government will recognise there is a problem and give us the resources we need.”

Ward 25 is an acute medical ward where people come straight from Accident and Emergency. The reception area is crowded with trolleys carrying people in varying states of urgent need. At any one time each nurse and health care worker is responsible for 10 patients – 10 people in states of acute need, as well as having simple demands for comfort. While we were with Mum, we ended up providing basic comforts to fellow patients, like conversation to often lonely and distraught people, getting them water, alerting the nurse to their need to go to the toilet etc. My sister said it was becoming like Indian hospitals where relatives become an essential part of the health care. This method is fine if you have a family as big and close as ours but it’s no way to run a service to meet the needs of all.

Later this year Colin Leys and Stewart Player will be publishing The Plot Against the NHS, an anatomy of the way that the care my mother received will become, US style, available only for those who can afford it. It is also a call to action. Here is a preview in Red Pepper.  We must respond to the appeal of the doctor on Jimmy's ward 25 and take action before it's too late.

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