The professional is political

There is little hope in a recent piece on Respiratory Futures from Dr Phil Hammond. He paints a bleak picture of the NHS under the current Conservative government, and crystallises fears that many of us have that things will only get worse post-Brexit.

The NHS is more than a place we go to work: it is a community, a family. Attacks on our family feel personal and hurt deeply. What has disappointed me over the last few years is the lack of anger and action from our community. Doctors in particular seem to take pride in separating politics from professionalism. They refuse to speak up or get involved, maintaining a so called ‘neutral’ position.

It is not neutral to stand by as our workforce is decimated by regressive barriers to migration, by a failure to pay nurses a wage they can live on, by a junior doctor contract justified by lies and driving many out of the profession. It is not neutral to watch our patients get sicker and sicker as they struggle to self-manage complex chronic health conditions in inadequate housing, fighting income uncertainty, benefit cuts, poverty, and hunger.

I include myself in this. I have got angry, I have written letters, I have protested with doctors, nurses, and students. But I have not done enough. We must all reflect on our personal and professional responsibilities outside of a narrow interpretation of what our work entails. Healthcare professionals care for people. What can we do to make sure that care is effective, expert, compassionate, and sustainable? I would suggest that we need to get political.

It is heartening to see a few well known names, and a few new faces doing this in both the mainstream and social media. But more of us must shoulder some of the responsibility. We cannot stand by as our non-UK born colleagues are made to feel unwelcome and undervalued. We must challenge the narratives on ‘health tourism’ and constantly cite data on the tiny proportion of the budget this takes up. We must celebrate the expertise of all our staff, from home and abroad, and shout loudly that they need and deserve to be paid well for their intense physical and emotional work. We must shut down any suggestions of blame for individuals who are getting older, having mental health difficulties or are becoming dependant, and we must value care workers by giving them time, money and respect. We must listen to people, hear what they need to self-manage their health, and relinquish some of our power and control to them. We must challenge our representative bodies when they are slow to change, silent in the face of national crises, or out of touch with their members.

We must use our privilege and power, we must speak up, and we must act.

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