The post below is from a worker within the NHS, who wishes to remain anonymous. I came across it on a friend’s Facebook page; she is a senior executive at the NHS, and the worker is one of her colleagues. Having read it, I asked at once if I could share it on my site, and I reproduce it here with their permission.
So, I’m getting increasingly concerned about the longer-term implications of what might lazily be termed the “Diana-fication” of the NHS – a mass outpouring of sentimental expression, and a sudden, rather revisionist clutching to the national bosom, as exemplified by large-scale charity fund-raising and public (social media) expressions of “support”.
First problem with this: the NHS is not a charity. It’s a national organisation (the clue is very much in the name, here) which is and should be publicly funded via taxation. Treating it as the subject of seasonal/event-driven fundraising efforts undermines the long-standing, democratically-expressed consensus that the NHS is something that everyone should take their fair share of responsibility for funding – not something that you sometimes choose to give money to when you’re feeling particularly soppy about nurses.
Second problem: the trend for public “celebration” brings with it an increasingly prevalent portrayal of NHS staff as smiling, benevolent “heroes”. They do heroic things, but they’re not happy amateurs who put on a uniform when they feel like playing superheroes: they’re highly trained professionals performing a range of difficult, stressful, and sometimes boring tasks in a variety of clinical and non-clinical roles. A sentimentalised portrayal of NHS workers risks undermining their professionalism.
(Aside: as others wittier and more articulate than me have pointed out, the Thursday evening “support” events have quickly taken on a grandiose, almost aggressive edge, in much the same way as wearing a poppy in November was once a quietly respectful commemoration of sacrifice but is now a “my poppy’s bigger than yours so I care more about dead soldiers than you do” competition. The public gestures of support have quickly escalated from being a nice thing to do, into something that people are *expected* to do – to the point where those who don’t join in are on the verge of being portrayed as granite-faced malcontents who want to see all nurses locked in a cage full of snakes and lions and poo, despite the fact that those people might be sleeping off a hospital nightshift or putting young kids to bed at 8pm on a Thursday).
Why does any of this matter?, some might ask. Where’s the harm in a public upsurge of support for a vital, life-saving group of public servants?
Why it matters, I think, is because movements of this kind are, by their nature, *transitory*. They capture the public mood at a particular moment in time, and then that moment passes, and people move on to something else. And we are still going to need the NHS once this is all over. (Which, by the way, it won’t be, for ages).
More than that: all this love-bombing gives the NHS and its staff a halo – a halo with a lustre that will inevitably fade. And that is dangerous. This is Britain. There will be a Newtonian response to all of this. A backlash. (It’s probably already started in some quarters). So, once all of the coronavirus-driven disruption starts to fade, and the NHS is crying out for funding in more ‘normal’ times, there will be those – and there will be many of them – whose instinctive reaction will be that the NHS have had their day in the spotlight, and should go back to being undervalued and disrespected. “What? Them again? I gave £10 to Captain Tom and now you want me to pay more National Insurance? Fuck that. I’m voting Tory”.
Perhaps most importantly of all, throwing charity and applause at the NHS lets the government off the hook. It leaves people thinking that, individually and collectively, we have all “done our bit”, because we gave them a few extra quid when we were feeling totes emosh, and banged a saucepan on a Thursday evening. Whereas the more prosaic (but much less Instagrammable) truth is that the parlous state of the NHS is entirely attributable to a government which has spent the last decade running it into a state of deliberate neglect to the point where its only possible salvation is to be sold off, bit by bit, to the likes of Richard Branson. Nationalise the risk, privatise the profit. As ever. But, because the likes of Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson can publicly associate themselves with a time and a movement in which EVERYONE LOVED THE NHS, they dodge culpability for their systematic dismantling of it.
So, you know. Show some socially distant love on a Thursday evening if you want to. But remember that you can do far more for the NHS at the ballot box than you ever can from your window or your social media accounts.