Tag Archives: Mental Health

Death by a thousand cuts

Earier this month, NHS England chief Simon Stephens urged the govenment to change their mind on measures that would see an estimated 30,000 nurses deported. The preposterous decision not to include nurses on the list of “shortage occupations” would mean non-EEA workers who earn less than £35,000 after six years in the UK will be deported.

As someone who works in frontline NHS services in London, I immediately recognised that – in one fell swoop – this would bring the NHS to its knees. The vast majority of my qualified colleagues are from overseas. NHS staff have not had a pay increase in 5 years – because a 1% increase when the average rate of inflation is 2.67% is a pay cut.

The starting pay band for a qualified nurse is £21,692 (Band 5) – this would mean mass deportation of people who have chosen to train in the UK and remain to care for its population. Oh, and paying tax, which supports the very system they work within and we all use. The top of Band 5 is £28,180 and would take 7 years to attain – even with London weighting this disqualifies all non-EEA nurses. Only staff of Band 7 and above would earn enough to be permitted to remain. Outside of London, it becomes even more impossible to achieve. In addition, the government are proposing severe cuts to pay for junior doctors, driving even those who are UK born and bred to look to other countries for a living wage.

The nursing exodus already started. We are not only failing to recruit into the NHS, we are drastically failing to retain the experienced staff we have as pay remains static and the cost of living rises. Recruitment and Retention payments staff previously received have also been been cut. Many go to Australia, where their profession is respected and welcomed, and the standard of living is better.

There is an unhealthy conflation of immigration, migration, and those seeking refuge. There is a presumption that everyone is desperate to get into/stay in the UK: with the ungrateful way people who work all hours, day and night, 365 days a year (including bank holidays, weekends, Christmas and New Year) are treated is it any wonder they are looking to greener pastures? The government keep saying they are going to train more “home grown” nurses, but that does not happen overnight – plus do we benefit by losing all the experience our current nurses have?

The recent Joint union membership survey from the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) states:

The NHS trade unions’ latest joint survey of members across the UK highlights high levels of dissatisfaction with the level of pay awards, low levels of morale and motivation due to workplace stress.  NHS workers do not feel there is enough time and resources to carry out their jobs and regularly work in excess of their contracted hours in order to provide the best care they can for their patients. 

No news there…

So, in a spectacular but fairly predictable climbdown, it has been announced that the government have temporarily lifted restrictions on recruiting nurses from overseas.  What this means for the enormous number of care workers who do not have a nursing qualification (eg. heathcare assistants) is anyone’s guess. Simultaneously the government announced a “cap” on “expensive agency staff”. No Trust chooses to use agency staff instead of substantive staff! In Mental Health care a personal knowledge of your patients and a rapport with them is unbelievably important, as it is in all other areas of healthcare. Agency staff are filling the gap left by years of pay freezes, real-term pay cuts, removal of overtime payments…the list goes on. Substantive staff are resigning and going to work for agencies because they are paid more! Oh, and next Jeremy Hunt thinks abolishing unsociable hours payments is a grand old idea – but avoided a commons debate about the £1bn NHS deficit. This year MP’s got a 10% pay rise, while NHS staff again got only 1%. Would you work Christmas Day or New Year’s Day in A&E for £9.00 an hour? Well apparently that is a living wage my friend, so you best get used to it.

So now Nurses will temporarily be added to the government’s Shortage Occupation List, which means nurses from outside the European Economic Area will have their applications prioritised. So they are temporarily as necessary as ballerinas.

Meanwhile, the government’s obsession with kicking vulnerable people while they are down continues unabated. Following on from the outrageous “bedroom tax” and proposed cuts to working tax credits, it has now been confirmed that UN representatives will visit the UK to investigate “grave and systematic violations” of the rights of disabled people, alledged to have taken place under austerity measures. Mental Health services have been cut, at a time where they are more oversubscribed than ever. People are literally dying from the impact of austerity – a policy that has been repeatedly shown as counter-productive by economists. In Paul Krugman’s The Austerity Delusion he highlights:

Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity…The economics of austerity are the same – and the intellectual case as bankrupt – in Britain as everywhere else.

You remember the Blairism “Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime”? Whatever you think of the speaker, violent crime is currently at its lowest rate in twenty years. But not for long. Today, Met Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe highlighted that the proposed cuts to Police budgets “will put London at risk”. With cuts estimated at a cool billion, Hogan-Howe estimates a loss of 8,000 officers in London alone.

In the meantime, while we continue to imprison more people, cut the number of prison staff to a minimum and do almost nothing to prevent reoffending we tax payers continue to pay more than it costs to go to Eton for each person we incarcerate. On average our prisons are currently at 97% capacity, but some are so overcrowded that they are running at 179% of the CNA level (Certified Normal Accommodation). Half of the world’s prison population of is held in the US, China or Russia; but you may be surprised to know that in England and Wales we incarcerate more people per head of population that the Chinese. 148 people in every 100,000 to be exact (in China it is 118 ). Heaven forbid we invest in adequate mental health provision, probation services, affordable housing and education to prevent people offending, reoffending or being recalled in the first place. No, far better to force people into abject poverty and just wait and see what happens.

But maybe if we can just push all those nurses out it’ll be okay.

Election 2015: Play Nice – “Pile On!” is for the Playground

On the eve of election day, I took to Twitter to push my views in other people’s faces. After all, that’s what Twitter’s for, right?

This election will be a first for me – I will not be voting Lib Dem. I still believe in their ideology, but unfortunately Clegg chucked it under a bus, so as a proud employee of the NHS I will be voting Labour tomorrow and hoping against hope for a new government on Friday morning #VoteNHS.

I despise the Tories (I am Scottish, so it was bred-in), however way above them in the scumbag stakes, and way below in my estimation, comes Farage’s UKiP.

No amount of slippery rhetoric can get around the fact that, with the BNP effectively neutered, their cohorts have gone in two distinct directions: UKiP and the EDL. Or both. This does not forgive or forget the numerous faux pas of other parties’ candidates, however the Daily Mirror’s video of a UKiP candidate threatening to shoot a Tory candidate purely on the basis of racism makes all others pale by comparison. If you haven’t had the displeasure, the link to Robert Blay’s outrageous outpouring is here.

So, I duly added my cyber voice to the @hopenothate Thunderclap using the hashtag #NotVotingUKiP. Unsurprisingly, the kippers are out in force trying to tear down those using the hashtag, alongside a fair number of professional and wannabe Trolls who just can’t face not being the most hated show in town. What was surprising was the poor quality of the Trolling – I am either not interesting enough or do not rise to the bait properly anymore (as I write about Gender Equality this is not my first rodeo).


Fairly lackluster.

Meanwhile in a different Twittersphere, and unknown to me, a young feminista was being “piled on” in an attempt to shut her up after someone sympathetic shared a post where @staywithgrace gave her personal reasons for not voting for UKiP. The main issue I have with Twitter is how easily someone can summon their friends/minions/cohorts to an argument to back them up and attempt to silence the person at the other side of the argument, not with facts and figures or considered opinions, but with weight of numbers. That is, of course, a classic bullying tactic. And ironically one that UKiP will probably be most proud of. When the barrage finally made Grace say she was not going to engage further her new ‘friend’ cyber cheered to all his Twitter inclusions by calling her a victim.

Goodbye Victim


But don’t worry – the boy can multitask:


While the first (and arguably worst) onslaught was cut off, like the mythical hydra three more heads rose in its place. Being that the initial post came from *shock horror * a woman – and self confessed feminist – the assault inevitably turned sexual in nature. No better way to shut a woman up than by trying to slut-shame her into the bargain, right? Our friend @hattondog appears to have removed the initial tweet to all his cronies saying Grace was sending him “filthy” private messages, but the response remains:


Others suggested she “make them a sandwich” andbemoaned the “terrible” treatment of convicted rapist Chad Evans.

I had already sent Grace a couple of supportive Tweets, but this last one got my goat and I entered the fray! I was riled, so I was almost disappointed when the best @hattondog could muster was the following:


The fight continues on Grace’s page just now – a person I have never met but feel hugely connected to as I have experienced some fairly hardcore Trolling myself on the #HeforShe facebook page. One guy sent my literally hundreds of messages, cramming my inbox with his woman-hating, “feminists are Nazis and here is the proof” propaganda. Like somehow I was going to decide not to be a woman anymore and just shut up.

It started because he ‘liked’ The Launch of  the Whoop ‘n’ Wail Represents… nights, ostensibly because we promote gender equality through male and female creatives working in collaboration. He messaged saying how great we were, unlike ‘evil feminists’, and I corrected him explaining I am a feminist but that does not mean man hating – taking me back to an old post I wrote called The F Word. The result was a deluge of material, too much to read, digest and respond to. Which of course is the point. You can’t respond, or can’t fully appraise yourself of everything you have had thrown at you quickly enough to reply citing all the ways in which they are wrong. So they chalk it up as a victory – as Grace found out today. I tried ignoring it, assuming my guy would get bored and move on, but oh no, he continued to inundate me.

Realising the thing he desperately wanted was my engagement I continued to ignore him (through very gritted teeth) as he likened me to Nazis and genocidal dictators. While that likely frustrated him it equally frustrated me as I was effectively STILL BEING SILENCED! Finally I composed a well thought through, even-handed response to him explaining I do not have enough hours in the day to wade through his screeds of ‘evidence’, and that perhaps we had best agree to disagree. The response I received was surprising. Not vitriol, not a redoubling of his efforts to bury me and my account under a weight of cyber info. Shockingly it was a very emotional outpouring, accusing me of failing to listen to him, of not valuing him. I could paste what was written here, but despite his behaviour what he told me was very personal and revealing and I wouldn’t feel right about doing so. Up until that point I had assumed I was dealing with a professional Troll, someone who is not particularly invested in the fight but enjoys the reaction they get. In reality this was a fairly damaged human being – one I entirely disagreed with, but who seemingly felt entirely voiceless and had a pathalogical need to be heard by women who, given the forum he chose, were inevitably going to disagree with him.

This feeling of being voiceless, of being silenced, is therefore one that is strangely shared on both sides of the argument, and perhaps this is the appeal of political parties like UKiP. There are large numbers in their ranks who are bigots and sexists, but it would be a mistake to assume all fall neatly under that banner – though it may be more comforting to make that assumption. The fact is that people feel so removed from the political process, and so powerless, that fringe parties are picking up votes from unexpected places. The political power of fear should not be underestimated, and all three of the big parties have lost so much respect and broken so many promises in the past that the electorate are looking for alternatives. The Greens will likely (and hopefully) pick up seats tomorrow, with the Lib Dems expected to take heavy losses. With the Tories balancing uncomfortably between their natural base and some more forward-thinking policies (supporting marriage equality for example) some of their voter base are looking for alternatives, and some have allowed the blinkers to go on so that they can ignore the fact that UKiP is a party that includes a huge racist/xenophobic/sexist element.

After a long period of financial and political uncertainty – the recession, the coalition, austerity – I suspect that what everybody really wants is some stability. What I want is a government that values the NHS, immigration and equality, and one that recognises taxing the middle to fund the rich is a recipe for disaster.

At work today, I asked my colleagues what would happen if all the “immigrants” decided to take the day off work tomorrow. My hospital would certainly grind to a halt – we would not even be able to muster the bare minimum of staffing required to run our wards, full as they are of inpatients who were largely born in this country and are primarily cared for by people originally born overseas. If we included two generations as the Nazis did, or three as the BNP did, the place would be empty and I would also be at home. Even if there were people ‘eligible’ to come to work, there would be no public transport to bring them. This idea that ‘our’ country is overcrowded with benefit-hungry foreigners is an absolute nonsense: the vast majority of immigrants work, pay their taxes, and contribute to the welfare state that the Tories have yet to successfully destroy. Recent economic studies have dispelled the myth over and over, showing that immigrants contribute far more to the country financially that they take out of it. It is all scaremongering – look over there, it’s his fault you don’t have a job! Those than can work should, those that can’t through no fault of their own should be looked after, because that is what a civilised society does:

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need”

So, for the first time in my adult life, I am voting for Labour tomorrow. I hope, whoever you vote for, you are voting for Hope not Hate and #NotVotingUKIP.

The Recoil Factor


Several of my friends and colleagues have suffered in recent years from a phenomenon that, in my head, I have begun calling “The Recoil Factor”.  This is essentially a negative reaction that those close to the sufferer have after the person goes through a trauma, illness (mental or physical), bereavement or major life change.  This reaction is baffling to those who do not experience it, and unfortunately means that a friend or loved one in great need of help and support suddenly finds those around them backing away, disappearing, and generally running for the hills.  This can often contribute to feelings of isolation, depression, and a low sense of self worth.

Recently the victim of a sexual assault, one of my friends has bravely chosen to tell others about her ordeal so as to hopefully catch the perpetrator, and also so that others can avoid being in a similar situation in the future.  The after-effects of the attack have been traumatic and life-changing, and she is currently suffers from anxiety, panic attacks.  In the short period since the terrifying experience she endured she has been avoided, told to “get over it”, been given the distinct feeling of not being believed, and also due to a period of sickness from work to recover now feels her job may be in jeopardy.  ‘This must be an isolated case’ you cry!  No, sadly this is often the norm, and there are people all over the UK (not to mention the world) who are experiencing the same feelings of rejection and disappointment just when they are at their lowest ebb.

I can cite numerous examples of this.  Friends with eating disorders who are “hard to be around”, victims of psychological and physical abuse who “should’ve just left”, an ex-colleague who survived cancer only to find half her ‘mates’ seemed to have lost her phone number, and a friend whose sibling was murdered who apparently was “just no fun anymore”.  So what is it about tragedy that makes people so damned unappealing?  When we have a relationship with someone, romantic or otherwise, is it not understood that this is for both good times and bad? Often it seems to be a case of when the going gets tough the tough are on their own and the rest get going.

Of course, not everyone does this.  Conversely in the face of disaster there are those who step up, often those the victim of the personal tragedy would least expect to come to their aid.  Perhaps it is the friend who always seemed a little self-centred before, or a colleague who goes the extra mile, or even a stranger on a train.  Sometimes, just when it seems darkest, someone completely surprises you by giving you just what you need at just the right time.  These people will ultimately be the real friends that you treasure for life, while those that recoil are consigned to the friendship bin of history.

Ultimately, your friendships and relationships are a reflection of who you are as a person.  If you find yourself thinking, “that’s terrible, I don’t know what to say” then say nothing – listen instead.  If the situation is difficult for you – perhaps it relates back to a bad experience of your own – then be honest and say so, don’t just switch off your phone or sidestep a person who needs you.  Just remember, if you were in the same boat you’d wish there was someone around to help you keep your head above water.