A new interpretation of “You die, I die, we all die. Bye-bye!” from The Spiderwick Chronicles - reflecting on hard times for the NHS by Oana Oancea, RD.
These funny dark words of Thimbletack interpreted by Martin Short kind of reflect what is currently happening to our NHS, patients and our pockets.
I want to specify from the beginning that this blog is not about politics and I cannot even think of comparing the government with Mulgarath or any other nasty goblins, but I am not stopping you doing it.
This blog is about endurance, an involution of feelings and anger with a touch of humiliation. It is about a “once upon a time” when I was young, naive and had a direction. This is about a time, years ago, when I first started to work for the first time for the NHS as a support worker. I remember that the interview wasn’t an easy one, and the corridor was full of newbie aspirants (especially immigrants) ready to work for Camden and Islington Trust in London. Believe it or not, I prepared for this interview three weeks in advance.
On the 30th of December, I completed my application for the job and sent it. I remember the date because it was my birthday and I was hoping with all my heart that it would be my lucky day and it was. I was called for an interview and soon after found I was one of the successful candidates. I can’t explain the happiness. I kept laughing and jumping and, I drank a glass of the cheapest champagne with my husband. On top of this happiness, there was enormous pride.
At last, after a long time and dozens of applications, I was able to move out of the private sector and into the NHS. My husband bought me a mug as a gift and I used it for years. I still have it tucked in the back of a kitchen drawer.
My unexplained pride went even further. As per protocol, once you have finished a shift, you have to remove the badge. Not me! Once I had the badge I used to display it from home to work and from work to home. That badge saw all the shops and all the public transport means in London. And that badge was seen by millions of commuters and it filled my heart.
But things changed. I can’t even remember when. By the time I started to work as a dietitian, that badge started to feel like a stone around my neck. Too many hours, too many breaks skipped, too many family events missed, too much of nothing. All that exuberance started to change into frustration, loneliness and a robotic life with no time for family or friends. No “me time”.
I was working at various hospitals, in day centres, on projects, working in trains, working at the dinner table, working everywhere. There was never a good time for annual leave; there was never a good time for having a baby, and there was never a good time for my personal life. Everything was about my job, about the NHS and about “my” patients.
No one expects you to work during annual leave, but at the same time, no one complains if you are crazy enough to do it. By the time you realise that this is a big red flag for your health and your sanity, it is too late. A phone call here, a quick meal plan there, a quick something or another everywhere, and by the time you realise it, your annual leave is over.
Whether we like it or not, this is one of the faces of the NHS – not so appealing for any normal person. It is never enough. Now I’ve heard that some people say our job is vocational. And yes, it is indeed vocational, but only to some extent. I am a professional, not a missionary. I have a mortgage, a baby (finally), bills, loans, etc. We work on pounds, not vocational banknotes.
So instead of working as a dietitian, I had to become an accountant.
I have a desk full of bills, the fuel tank is drier than the Sahara Dessert, a baby with needs, and a family abroad to look after. I am calculating, planning and cutting costs, and, somehow, each time I fall short. I am just counting invisible money for real emergency needs. And based on this surviving kit mode, I have had to stop my pension payment.
You know what’s ironic? It was not long ago that from time to time I was the one sending sums of money to my parents in Romania for their medication, or for small repairs to their house, but now things have changed. Last week, with the few fumes of diesel we managed to buy, I went to pick up some money my parents had sent me to help me with the daily living costs.
Is the UK healthcare system broken? Did it have its last breath? Is there still some hope for some CPR and how long will it last if that even works? Without any doubt, I say yes to the first question. It is broken at all levels. The whole system seems to have a virus and needs a completely new programme to be freshly installed. After years and years of vocation and humble silence, this is the result today. It is a system that starts to look and feel like Anorexia Nervosa: weak to its osteoporosis riddled bones.
My grandmother used to put small pieces of naphthalene between the “good” clothes and bedding to keep moths away. Since then, my brain associates the smell with something old and out of fashion. The NHS is starting to smell old and out-of-date, filled to the brim with naphthalene. At the management level, there are talks about how we can attract more people to fill positions. No one seems to bother about how we retain the docile, completely fed-up and burned-out staff we have now.
Some minds from another dimension may say that there are still lots of willing people to work for the NHS. I agree, but the problem is they are locked up in psychiatric hospitals! Some vocation mixed with some pride is the perfect recipe for poverty and humiliation. Only a delusional mind can paint the NHS situation on a pink canvas with unicorns flying around. The reality is people are dying in their own homes; people are self-medicating or using more and more home remedies. We could cover the Chinese Wall with patients’ names being on waiting lists. Who wants to be part of this?
Ten years ago, I moved to the UK with £250 in my wallet and so many hopes and dreams. Now I have £50 on my card and an overdraft on another. I don’t need to tell you that my three-month-old son, Luca, is the world to me. I would like to believe that one day I will give him his own “My NHS Hero” mug. The reality is, I just don’t want my son to experience what I have: suffering years of silence and stubborn resilience in a broken healthcare system.
This life now for many of us and this NHS have been reduced to the bare minimum on all levels, with no room, no time and no money for even the smallest comforts.
Oana Oancea, RD
Oana is an Eating Disorder Dietitian, working with Day Centre patients and outpatients in Dumfries. In the past, she led the CAMHS Addiction and Eating Disorder Unit in Priory Hospital, Chelmsford.