I find myself in the position of a nurse on a political quest to save the NHS – who doesn’t mind losing his registration along the way.
Being male, and young (or at least – young looking), the question I get asked most is ‘why did you become a nurse?’
I grew up living in the fantasy realms of young adult fiction where all my heroes were, well just that, heroes. I can only guess that’s where my desire to go out and save the world came from – it’s where this all starts anyway. I decided, a little too late, that I wanted to be a doctor, that was how I would become a hero, how I would save the world. ‘Too late’ though because I was 17 and about to finish my A-Levels, none of which were in scientific subjects and none of which would be beyond a C grade. But nursing, that was a course that would take me and my low grades in humanity subjects. From there, there were a few courses across the country that would take a nursing degree as an entrance to graduate medicine… and so I started my nurse training.
I trained out of my home city, between Sheffield and Rotherham hospitals and communities. This is after a year as a care worker in a residential home, and all alongside I kept up the care working to fund my lifestyle. But somewhere along the way, in fact – not very far along, I decided I didn’t want anything to do with this health care stuff. I decided I’d work a year or two after qualifying, maybe another couple of years out in ‘Third World’.. after that, ’saving the world’, and then find something else.
So, qualified, I ended up in London, at the National Neurological Hospital, and for the first 6 months, surprisingly, enjoying it. The chaos of the wards, at first daunting, eventually becoming simply challenging and, for the first time in my life, having some real agency as to how to manage that challenge, that chaos. I thrived on that, for a while. But, somewhere down this next line, I realised this chaos, this challenge, was unconquerable, was simply that, chaos, an NHS in crisis. I quit, and went travelling.
For the next two years I left the NHS and worked for my previous trusts bank. Bank staff are those who fill the shifts that the regular staff cannot. They are often regular staff themselves, looking to work an extra shift, or two, a week. Bank companies are closely aligned to the NHS, they often work with only one or two trusts and often employ mostly the permanent staff from those very same trusts. They usually don’t pay any more than the NHS. I worked like this, picking up only night shifts, on and off for two years, travelling in between. It has it’s advantages, particularly to suit my lifestyle of come and go. It’s not ideal for a young nurse though, without a permanent ward there’s no place that will invest training in you, no place to pick up a stable routine and set of skills, but, working somewhere different every night teaches you a few things – adaptability – how different wards work – and… why the NHS is in crisis.
A political quest
Within just 3 years I considered myself expert in analysis of the health system. In my short time nursing I had worked in too may different areas, across country, trusts, hospitals, wards, not to have noticed a vast inequality, a systemic problem, and to begin dissecting the why’s and, more importantly – the how’s.. the how to make things better. But seething silently is no good for the soul and I quit for good and left to travel once more.
Back to blue
I came back to the UK after two years abroad having worked as a potwasher, apple picker, dog walker and other such things. Having, essentially, no reposibility for two years, and I missed it, a little now, and if I was being honest with myself, I’d always been a little embarrassed of being a male nurse, but not now. And I wanted to help the world once more. It was easier than I had imagined, getting my registration back, and within 3 months I found myself back on the wards, this time working in the Welsh Valleys.
I was back. Back to nursing. But I came back de-stressed, mature, and with a political vendetta against privatisation and the right wing dismantling of our last great bastion of the welfare state.
I began working for an agency. Now, these are not quite the same as ‘bank’. Agencies are often completely unrelated to a hospital, they hire staff who have no attachment to a hospital and fill the shifts that bank cannot fill. They do pay more than the NHS. A lot more. These agencies charge exorbitant fees to fill gaps in swiss-cheese ward rota’s and while the nurse will take home quite a bit, the agency will reap huge profits too. These agencies are completely unnecessary. If the NHS simply hired the staff themselves, there would be no need for the middle man (in my agency’s case – huge team of middle-persons working out of a Milton Keynes office) to be involved at all. But conservative politics have created a boom in agency work and, as awful as the situation is, it must be worked.