Have you noticed something? Whether it is the nurses, who are no longer striking, the junior doctors, about to spend three days on the picket line in pursuit of their 35 per cent pay claim, or the consultants, threatening a two-day walk-out which they may choose to spend topping up their income in the private sector rather than shouting slogans outside their hospital – it’s all about them.
They are exhausted, they are suffering from ‘burn-out’, their work brings on mental health issues. Their pay has – hardly uniquely – lagged way behind inflation, their working conditions are intolerable. No one respects them or their hard work, they’re threatening to follow their zillions of colleagues who have left for a better work-life balance by an Australian beach. By now, you can probably recite their list of grievances by heart. You might also have figured out that someone, quite a lot of someones, are missing from the picture.
Yes, it’s you and me – the patients. Every now and again, some highly articulate medical representative is prompted by a helpful interviewer to say that of course they regret the inconvenience to those whose operation or cancer treatment will be postponed, but it’s all in a greater cause. Real live patients rarely feature as more than a distant afterthought. Our NHS? Not really; it feels a lot more like their NHS.
I write as someone who recently, and reluctantly, spent eight days in three instalments on the other side of this noble front line. I emerged with a painfully pinned and subsequently infected left ankle, a sturdy metal frame to hop around on, and the echoes of a plea that I had screamed silently to myself every day of my medical detention: will someone please tell me what is going on?!
There is a neat little mantra, applied to situations as different as medics dealing with patients in the NHS to any hint of peace talks on Ukraine, which promises ‘nothing about you, without you’.