Shine A Light

My Mum’s encounter with the ‘enemies of enterprise’: let's fight to save the NHS

The everyday heroes of the NHS don't get a mention in the government's rhetoric on 'enterprise' and 'modernising the health service'. But these are the people we can trust to keep us healthy and safe.

Esme Madill
21 September 2011

Two ambulance men took my Mum to hospital on Friday night. A wound from minor cardiac surgery the previous day begun to bleed into surrounding tissue.  We called 999. Within minutes, the ambulance arrived.

Calmly the two men took her medical details. My Mum’s panic was matched by that of her three granddaughters watching as the men wrapped their beloved gran gently in blankets, lifted her onto the stretcher chair, phoned round for a hospital bed, all the while assuring the girls that they would take good care of her.

Just like the nurse on her tea break who offered to get my Mum an extra blanket once she arrived at the hospital, ambulance drivers don’t really feature in current government rhetoric. It is the ‘go getters’, the ‘small businesses’ that will mend broken Britain. Not the public sector workers the prime minister assures us he will ‘do right by’ (it sounds as if he is doing them a favour) — while pushing forward NHS ‘modernisation’ which is in truth dismantling and privatisation that will, in the words of BMA chairman Hamish Meldrum, Royal College of Nursing chief executive Peter Carter and the heads of Unison, Unite, “undermine the care of patients by putting cost before quality”.

About the latest pay awards for City investment bankers — JP Morgan, will pay £1.87billion in salary and bonuses to its London staff, an average payout of £234,180 — Cameron urges us to stop seeking vengeance. ‘It’s about getting the balance right,’ he says.

We cannot ‘hammer’ the bankers if we want a growing economy.

No such balance applies to ambulance drivers’ pensions. Cameron says public sector pensions are ‘unfair’ to the taxpayer. Public sector workers must ‘share the pain’, have their pay and pension squeezed. But NHS ambulance staff work 39 or 40 hours a week. Many work shifts, including nights, weekends and public holidays. Salaries range from £14,010 a year for a trained care assistant, to £19,264 for an ambulance technician.

That compares with £27,000-a-week (yes, every single week) trousered by Nick Buckles, chief executive of privatisation beneficiary G4S, looking forward to what they call ‘strong pipeline’ from the Department of Health. (‘We're wasting too much money on empty bureaucracy when it could be spent on the frontline,’ said David Cameron in his ‘Protecting the NHS for tomorrow’ speech this past June.)

Cameron urges a fundamental rebalancing of our economy and promises to ‘Back small firms. Boost enterprise. Be on the side of everyone in this country who wants to create jobs, and wealth and opportunity.’

But, what of those who keep us fit and well enough to ‘create wealth and opportunity’, doing jobs that don’t ‘boost enterprise’ so much as help us to live without fear – the ambulance drivers, the nurses? People who are driven, not to get rich quick, but to serve the public?  People whose spending and taxes support the economy? (Unlike, just for instance, property almost-billionaire David Rowland, forty years a tax-exile, who gave nearly £3m to the Tory party’s general election fund.)

The day my Mum came out of hospital singing the praises of all who had come into contact with her, I met a radiographer, a single mother with two boys. Her overtime has been cut back so severely she can’t afford to put her sons through college. While she watches agency staff brought in to cover the work she is no longer permitted to do, she makes plans to emigrate. 

One of her colleagues told me how she is particularly valued by the very elderly patients: she puts them at ease with her good humour and competent manner as they arrive in theatre nervous and vulnerable. Should she be more ‘go getting’? Is she not entrepreneurial enough?

Back in June, in his shamelessly titled ‘Protecting the NHS’ speech that might have been drafted at the Daily Mail, Cameron said: ‘We're hearing too many stories about patients being moved from pillar to post......getting lost in a labyrinth of letters and appointments and referrals......when what they really want is to be in the driving seat.’ 

My Mum didn’t want to be in the driving seat. She needed care. And she got it.

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