• Author:Ben Jones
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The NHS and schools – time to stop the emotional blackmail

It is Nigel Lawson to whom the comment that the NHS is “the closest thing we (the British) have to a national religion” is often attributed. There is no doubt that there is a very special bond between the British public and the doctors and nurses in the NHS. I omit to mention managers as we all know they are evil and are just a drag on the system, apart from Simon Stevens!

I reflect on this as junior doctors withdraw their labour and inconvenience (at best) thousands of people up and down the country – our children, our grannies, mums, dads and neighbours. The public’s reaction – always dangerous to generalise but here goes – is to shrug its shoulders and say if they are going on strike they must have no choice. They must have been pushed to the brink. It must be someone else’s fault.

I reflected further on this view of key public servants when I listened to an hour of Nicky Campbell’s Five Live phone in; “Who’d be a teacher?”. I witnessed the same faith-based worship. Lots of criticism of regulation – apparently the nasty Ofsted inspectors are as bad as the faceless NHS managers – government interference and too much testing of children and pressure being placed on teachers. Their classroom morale – along with their medical colleagues – is rock bottom and as a result it must be someone’s fault – not theirs — not the reality of providing a high quality service to rightly demanding taxpayers – but someone’s fault.

SchoolThis post is not doctor, nurse or teacher bashing. I have to write that. I have to write that because any toe in the water of this type of discussion immediately leaves the toe-dipper open to the charge of not supporting our vital vocationists. Letting them down. Wanting to privatise the NHS or close schools. Please!

This is not a post aimed at criticising our stethoscope and chalk-carrying cousins, but I am a fellow resident of this country, a taxpayer and a voter and even as I write this I feel I am sticking my head above a rarely-negoitated parapet. We are too conditioned to react emotionally to these professions. To be emotionally blackmailed by them and the media into unconditional support regardless of the cause. If you don’t express unconditional support you are anti-teacher, unfair to doctors or nurses; “would you work their hours and do the work they do?”. We should be so grateful to them.

As with so much in British public life, we are desperately overdue some honesty about the realities of what we are doing, how much it costs and the best way of doing it. We should be able to do that about schools and hospitals without feeling like traitors. It is time that we had a real debate about value for money; about the standards that we should expect for the money we spend as a nation; and be prepared to be honest about the compromises that are needed in some jobs. Every job; every single job – public and private sector – carries ups and downs and trade-offs. Less pay for doing interesting work. Anti-social hours but higher pay; more holidays but evening working; shift working but days off in the week; weekend rotas and the like. Try working in retail and argue that Saturday is not a normal working day. Yes, but Tesco and the NHS are totally different – it’s an insult to our brave nurses and doctors to make the comparison. You clearly want to privatise granny’s hip operation and introduce American-style insurance in place of our wonderful NHS. Please!

I tell you what I want, what I really want – with thanks to The Spice Girls.

  • I want to be able to go to hospital every day of the week and have the same chance of staying alive or receiving the same quality of treatment as on any other day. I was in hospital over a weekend – it was a doctor-free zone so please don’t tell me we already have a 7 day service every where. We do not.
  • I would like to go to my GP and not feel rushed to get out the door.
  • I would like to know that every doctor and nurse I see in the NHS can speak English – properly.
  • I would like to know that when I am prescribed drugs they are the best ones for my condition not the best ones for the pharmaceutical companies or the best ones to keep costs down.
  • In our schools, I would like to know how the children are doing – against clearly set standards – I would like to see regular test results and understand where the children need to develop their knowledge and skills.
  • I would like to be able to compare schools’ results and know they are all giving our children the best chance to succeed, meeting internationally-recognised standards.
  • I would like know that every teacher has the qualifications and experience to do the job.
  • I would like to know that there is discipline in all our schools and they are places of safety and respect.
  • I would like to know that children are leaving schools ready for the world of work.

Perhaps this is too much to ask. If it is, let’s talk about it. Let’s debate the costs; the trade-offs. I know that everything costs money, so let’s talk about that and choices we need to make. Let’s do that without my view being worth less because I don’t work in a hospital or a school. Whilst we are at it, can we please knock off the emotional blackmail. I can ask for these things and reasonably expect them to be delivered if we are prepared to make the choices necessary. It doesn’t have to be about “them or us”.

It would be great if my view was worth as much as someone who wears a white coat, scrubs or stands in front of an interactive whiteboard. Afterall, my vote and every pound of my taxes and National Insurance is as valuable as theirs.

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