The Secret Trade Unionist

Public Service Announcement: I should like to point out that I do not wear a nylon uniform at work. I wear scrubs and, like everyone else, I mainly use them to write confidential patient information on when in theatre.

The first time I floated the idea of a trade union for non-clinical NHS cannon fodder to a nurse she laughed a Cadbury’s Hero into her face mask, which then rebounded into her lungs and caused her to cough and laugh for about six minutes. I chose her as confidante because she once told me about an affair she’s been having in her head for the last fourteen months with one of the doctors and, while involuntarily choking with laughter on a Cadbury’s Hero was not the most encouraging response, it was at least honest. That said, unless you have very specific carnal requirements, I can think of few situations less sexy than working in a hospital, which is disappointing considering that all my prior medical experience came from watching Carry On Doctor. Actually, now I come to think of it, two junior staff were openly flirting with each other while my current girlfriend was giving birth to my son. This was a heart-warming triumph of youthful romance, what with everything else that was going on at the time. I wonder if it was a Tinder date. Anyway, I didn’t feel terribly romantic myself, but that was because it was four in the morning, I was very tired, and I fancied a Kit Kat.

Attempting to discuss the issues that might cause a new union to come into existence, I mentioned to my nurse friend the bullying for which our hospital is widely celebrated. She replied that the NHS ‘always been like that’ and if ‘people don’t like it, they can leave’, rounding off with ‘it’s always the same sort of people who complain’. I pointed out that yes, it would be people being bullied who would tend to complain about bullying, to which she shrugged. This is, incidentally, an apparently perfectly nice nurse who does yoga and says ‘Namaste’ a lot, and further justifies why I insist that my son never trusts a hippy.

Her comments have been far from uncommon in my covert reconnaissance, along with stuff about the NHS employing the ‘…wrong sort of people’ and that nothing can be done because ‘…society is broken’. Still, as well as speaking with nurses, another part of my groundwork has been speaking to the various Wellbeing Leads to gauge their opinion on this bullying issue and as, somewhat remarkably, she is also the Wellbeing Lead for my part of the hospital, it saved me a bit of time. I probably spent this stealing birthday cake from one of the wards while pondering how much faith you would have in our Domestic Abuse Champion if they said you were getting battered at home because you were the wrong sort of partner.

There’s a few things to point out, though. For a start, the attitude to bullying in the NHS is more of a resigned acceptance than a concerted effort, because all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, and so on. I’m not sure that, given the chance, NHS staff are any more likely to bully people than bus drivers or bricklayers or biochemists, it’s just that the NHS provides the perfect environment for bullying to take place. Also, pecking orders exist. They just do, and aren’t necessarily a bad thing as they can work for everyone. In the NHS, the pecking order is more toxic the further you are down it, because it is built upon bullying, and this is why those of us at the bottom need to unionise.

Then again, I do come across occasional prospective union members who put forth sentiments to the effect that when they look after patients they feel important, so they don’t mind being regarded as an idiot in a nylon uniform by more senior staff. I don’t really know where to begin with Uncle Tom nonsense like this. I usually start to explain that while it’s nice to be important to patients, it would also be nice to be important to our employers, but then give up because I find this kind of Escher drawing of a conversation makes me angry and depressed, like tapas and Sudoku, and I don’t want to have to speak to a Wellness Lead about it afterwards.

According to a study published by the British Medical Journal in 2018, the annual cost of bullying to the NHS is £2.28bn. This money would employ 91,000 nurses every year. Before long, we would all be nurses, and no one would ever be ill again. Even if this figure had since halved, the NHS that people are so proud of would still be, in terms of an employer, a national disgrace. In 2019, 20.6% of staff witnessed bullying behaviour, with only 48.9% of these bothering to report it. As my son will doubtless testify, I am no hippy. I will never go to San Francisco, or wear trousers in my hair. I am a capitalist, and we are the only people who can save the NHS, because we understand that stopping people being dicks saves an awful lot of money. To the barricades, everyone!


Main: My dog surveying the landscape for things to chase.

Inset top: Just fuck off.

Inset middle: It’s not all bad though. Look at these prime cuts from the Pheno One Be Lit! playlist! You could well be enjoying this if you have surgery in our unit, which makes a failing vascular system worthwhile in many ways. Note especially Runaway Boys by rockabilly mentalists the Stray Cats, from a time when leaving home to be a rent boy in, presumably, Piccadilly Circus was a perfectly reasonable career choice if you weren’t predicted decent GCSE grades. I will always prefer pop to rock and roll because it is better, but the radiographer who suggested this has indeed picked a banger.

Inset lower: No surprise to see Groove Is In The Heart in the mix. My son usually claims this as his favourite tune, along with You Really Got Me by the Kinks and the Beatles’ All You Need Is Love. However, the first tune he liked was the Rolling Stones’ cover of Around and Around by Chuck Berry. I had to mention this one nursery school parents’ evening, because in his little year book they had it down as Five Little Ducks Went Swimming One Day.

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