Pray that we have enough diversity officers to get us through this

My, but the British love their national institutions. Dame Vera Lynn, the Grand National, Sir Michael Caine, cricket, Sir Bobby Moore, the BBC, all of these vie to go on a bank note although, to sniff the cultural winds that are currently blowing across Albion, the next candidate for investiture on a fiver or a tenner will likely be a 19th-century lesbian washer-woman of dusky hue. Nonetheless, of all the institutions that really tug the heart-strings of this island nation, it is the National Health Service, our beloved NHS.

Heartening as it has been during the current health crisis to see an outpouring of affection – from most, not all – for the often unsung heroines and heroes of this venerable institution, one cannot help but wonder whether the good people know exactly what they are applauding, giving flowers to, and feeding for free.

I have worked for the NHS in five different capacities: Nurse, medical supplies cleaner, medical supplies officer (CSSD), health information officer and medical librarian. I have seen the NHS from every angle, including the time they saved my 16-year-old life from the effects of what a police officer called one of the worst car wrecks he had ever seen. I was in a coma for two days. They saved my life, they saved my ability to walk, and they saved a good deal of what is left of my tattered faith in human nature. I have never begrudged a penny of income tax taken from me to fund this enterprise, and it is not cheap. Anyone who calls the NHS ‘free’ probably doesn’t pay any tax.

I enjoyed every post I worked in, but ointment wouldn’t be ointment without its fly. In the case of the NHS, that fly is called management. The NHS is over-managed, needlessly staffed with overpaid, make-work technocrats who have no interest in patient care, merely in justifying their own existence and the absurdly high salaries they command. There are posts, and many of them, that simply should not exist, that there is no real uses for, that impede rather than facilitate the curing of sickness and the repair of broken bodies.

If, when this is over, the government has the cojones to make the cuts to the NHS it should to fund the investment in genuine healthcare workers it ought, start with the diversity officers, those hectoring, self-righteous, culturist make-works who infest each and every NHS trust across the land. How dare there be diversity officers in the NHS. The NHS has always been the most diverse of employers, and I don’t think you could find an industry – outside of the Premiership and the buses – who has employed such a wide range of nationalities for such a long period of time.

I remember once having to go to a cultural awareness course when I was working at Croydon General Hospital. What a farcical waste of time and resources. Why the hell do I need to know how an Indian woman wraps a sari round herself? I left after 10 minutes and went and did some proper work. Why is it so important to acknowledge and respect other cultures in the context of healthcare? You need to save a person’s life and optimise their well-being, not make sure you tick the boxes concerning whatever metaphysical predilections they might hold, particularly when cultures other than our own so often come laden with – and this is encouraged in the UK – prejudice and self-importance.

The NHS is a marvellous principle warped out of all recognition by hopeless Socialist micro-management, interference and overstaffing at the wrong levels. Anyone who has worked for the NHS knows this to be true, whether they admit it or not. One personal story is a typical example of my experience within the labyrinth of the NHS.

I was working at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, South London, organising the delivery of sterile supplies for what the NHS calls CSSD, or Central Sterile Supplies Department. My job involved visiting every ward, department and unit in what was then (and may still be) England’s second-biggest hospital (after Manchester Royal Infirmary) twice a day, taking orders for sterile supplies and then delivering same when they arrived from Queen Mary’s University Hospital, Roehampton, where the big autoclaves were and were the supplies were warehoused.

I saw every aspect of hospital healthcare, from neo-natal unit to geriatric ward via chiropodist, ear, nose, and throat, X-ray and intensive care. It’s a job I recall with great fondness. When I arrived it was 47% efficient; when I left that rate was 97%. The only reason we didn’t make the ton is because they wouldn’t change from glass Redivac bottles to the disposable plastic varieties. If you’re ever unlucky enough to haemorrhage but lucky enough to survive, it will be a Redivac bottle that saves your life.

My only stipulation was that I be allowed to use my own methods and not be beholden to some line manager with hands as uncalloused by work as a concert pianist. How naïve the man who offered me the job was to agree, and how naïve I was to believe this possible in the NHS in 1981.

My first project was to get a feel for the place and what the requirements were. The biggest item on any hospital’s CSSD budget was the basic dressing pack [BDP]. If you’ve ever been treated in hospital or surgery for a wound, you’ll have been patched up by a nurse using one of these. I figured I’d introduce myself to the staff nurses and department heads, and at the same time check that they were happy with the BDP.

Two hours later, I had my answer. No, they weren’t happy. The BDP contained, among other things, two balls of cotton wool for swabbing a wound and applying antiseptic. The problem with cotton wool is that it lints, leaving tiny strands of cotton in the wound. This is then sewn up and, often, the cotton rots, you have infection, possibly even gangrene, and the wound has to be re-opened. Hardly ideal. What they wanted, they said unanimously, was Medigauze, which looks like the breakfast cereal Shreddies and doesn’t lint. I sourced a company (in pre-internet days) who supplied a BDP with Medigauze and, unbelievably, their unit price was cheaper than the current usage. I ordered up straight away. First day in the job. Happy staff nurses. No more post-wound infection. Money saved for the NHS. Job done.

Two days later, I got the call.

“Hello. Is that xxxxx?” “Speaking.” “Oh, hi. My name’s (whatever his name was) and I’m the St George’s user group liaison co-ordinator (or some such obfuscatory bollocks).” “Alright. We should chat some time. I’d like to pick your brains.” “Actually, I need to see you right away.” He had an office. That was the first thing that got me. Staff nurses, the gals who ran the wards and stuff like that, got some coffee-morning cubbyhole with people flitting in and out and the constant calls of the distressed. This little fucker had a large, wood-panelled office to himself on the sunny side of the street. “Hello, Mr - .” “Hello.” “I gather you’ve changed the order for basic dressing packs.” “That’s right. Do you want to see the savings figures? I can show you a pack too, if you like.” “It’s, um, not quite as simple as that.” “Is it not?” “No.” “In what sense?” “You really need to get the authority of the user group to make a change like that.” “I did. I asked every staff nurse in the hospital.” “They’re not the user group.” “How can a group of people who use something not be a user group?” “I mean the official user group.” “Okay. Let me meet them.” “Yes, you’ll have to do that anyway.” “Is this afternoon okay?” “Um, no. The next meeting is in two weeks.”

And this pseudo-Socratic, music-hall, knockabout, Tambo-and-Bones stuff went on and on and on. I’d transgressed the unwritten rule that says: Thou shalt not act to ameliorate a situation without first requiring the interference of layers of bureaucracy who soak up a wholly disproportionate amount of the money available to the NHS.

Let me tell you what should happen. Every NHS Trust in the UK should put together a working group of nurses, doctors, surgeons, consultants and all the other people who actually physically touch or communicate with the injured and sick – along with secretaries, cleaners, porters, medical records staff, anaesthetists and other essential support staff – and they should interview all the liaison officers, the outreach staff, the performance indicator Johnnies and all the other make-work leeches and, if these people can’t prove that the removal of their post will depress morbidity rates, then DOWN THE FUCKING DOLE OFFICE THEY MUST GO.

As noted, the real biscuit-takers, the post that puts the tin hat on everything, are the diversity managers. How insulting do you think it is to have people in the NHS, of all places, looking for real or imagined racism like an over-zealous social worker looks for bruising on a toddler’s arm? We have all heard quite enough about racism for one lifetime, thank you, often from very racist people. Get them out of the NHS.

So, you clap and you sing and you give flowers and free food and drink and that is fine and that is good. But there is only one part of the NHS that is worth praising and there is only one part of it that is worth saving. The useful part, and they know who they are. And so do we.

Credit - The NHS

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