Tag Archives: rant

Giving thanks for the NHS

Yesterday’s Count Your Blessings text was this: “Tax dodging by some unscrupulous companies means developing countries lose more money annually than they receive in aid. Give 50p if you have benefited from a tax-funded service in the last year.”

I’ve had cause in the last couple of weeks to use the NHS rather more than I would have liked (and have the bruises to prove it, thanks particularly to the student vampire who was lovely but probably needs a wee bit more practice at taking bloods!). As well as this, from my lofty view in devolved Scotland, I have been watching with horror the debate about the proposed NHS Bill for England and Wales, and as well as giving thanks for the services I received myself I have to selfishly give thanks that health matters in Scotland are devolved so, both as a punter and as a worker, I don’t have to deal directly with the fallout of Andrew Lansley’s proposals. But even though I don’t, my family and friends down south will have to deal with the realities of a health service privatised to within an inch of its life, and that scares me. When you have the Royal College of GPs (the very GPs who are supposed to take on a lucrative commissioning role under the new proposals and so who would be set to benefit from supporting the bill) vehemently against the bill as they think it is utterly detrimental to patient wellbeing, as well as a number of other influential representative bodies (you can see a summary diagram here, and a handy diagram from Ben Goldacre summarising the groups invited to the government’s summit on the NHS reforms earlier this week here), the continued insistence of the UK government on pushing through the bill seems crazy. I am really scared that the NHS which, for all its faults, is one of the things this country can rightly be most proud of, is about to be summarily destroyed in England and Wales.

I know I’m sounding melodramatic, but I want to give thanks for the NHS while it’s still there. 🙁

Don’t vote for Cameron redux

The news over the last couple of days that Tory leader David Cameron wants to make teaching an elite profession available only to the (allegedly) brightest and the best has already attracted comment on the wibsite thanks to an (as usual) astute post from Tractor Girl. The idea of a panel of “good universities” in the “low dozens” (see this press release from university think-tank million+) suggests to me a return to elitism and snobbery based on where you study rather than the million and one other things that should define a good teacher and the value of the time spent at university, explained much better in Tractor Girl’s post than I could here (do read it if you haven’t already clicked on the link).

I have to say that I also felt rather peeved, not to mention confused and angry, because last week the article about nurse education which wound me up so much (see last post) seems to be saying the opposite thing – ie that being elite and highly academic is a bad thing. Now, a disclaimer here: I realise that I am on the more academic side of things, and I responded well to much of the academic side of nurse training, whereas many absolutely brilliant nurses aren’t so into the academic side of things but are still fantastic at what they do and shouldn’t be discriminated against by a lack of academic aptitude (having said that I do think that a GCSE/O’level C grade in maths is essential for pretty obvious reasons – I don’t want any doses of drugs being calculated by people who can’t multiply or divide – but I digress).

My concerns are severalfold. Cameron’s statement that there was “too much over-academicised training and not enough hands on training, not relevant to what they were doing on the ward” is far too simplistic. The issue of academic versus hands-on has been going on for ages, certainly while I was training in the mid-1990s it was a huge issue with “old hands” moaning that newly-qualified nurses didn’t have the practical skills to do the job whilst many nurses really appreciated the chance to expand their knowledge and – and this is the important bit – apply it to how they practised nursing. What really bothers me about this statement though is in many ways much more basic. Hello Mr Cameron – I haven’t worked on a ward for years. What is relevant to ward nurses is much less relevant to community and general practice nurses, who work in different ways and often are looking at health, illness and wellbeing in a totally different light (complementary I might add to the hospital system, not in opposition to it).

My biggest concern is that, when I look back at my nurse training, the biggest discovery for me and the thing that really sparked my interest in working in communities, looking at health inequalities and trying to work towards improving health at a community as well as individual level was sociology – in particular looking at the Black Report of 1980 which showed how social class affected health outcomes (the report was commissioned by the Labour government of the 1970s but published in August 1980, just after That Bloody Woman took power. It was published on a Bank Holiday with only a few hundred copies, and was basically hushed up, as the findings were so compelling that inequalities in health were inextricably linked to social class inequalities). And this is, I think, precisely the sort of “academic training” that Cameron has in mind when he talks about over-academic training. He’s not going to slash lecturing posts in anatomy and physiology, it’s the more political stuff he wants to get rid of. It’s all very well having nurses with amazing practical hands-on skills – indeed it is vital, of course it is. But if we have a generation of nurses who are only trained to do practical things with individual patients, what is lost is the focus on inequality and injustice. I just think it would be awfully convenient for the Tories to have a nursing profession that is so focussed on being professionally and practically brilliant at what they do that they have so much less time or knowledge or understanding to challenge the real issues of inequality and exclusion on a wider level.

Reason not to vote for David Cameron #9857

Instead of marking essays (like I should be doing) I have spent the last 3/4 hour writing a (though I say so myself) eloquent and passionately-argued blog post on why David Cameron’s current pronouncements on nurse education (which pretty much boil down to “make it less academic”) are not only a bad but also a dangerous and cynical thing and have me really worried for the future of the profession. And after all that, having got myself *really* worked up about it, I clicked on “publish” only to get an Internal Server Error message and the whole bloody thing is lost.

Cameron you bastard, it’s all your fault.

(if I can face it I’ll rewrite it another day. Have to go and mark essays now). Grrrrrrr.

Crimes against apostrophes, and other random happenings

Today HD and I made our second annual pilgrimage to Penrith, to Potfest in the Pens. Before we could feast our eyes on the beautiful pottery though, we were met at the venue (Penrith Market) by this scary character:


For some reason this is the meeting point for lost people (I guess you can’t miss it). However I do think this is a bit flawed: if I were a little kid who’d got lost the last thing I’d want to go near is this, and if I were a lost adult I would be far too grumpy about the hideous misuse of apostrophes on the sign (“Granma’s and Grandad’s and Lost Parents” etc) to wish to be anywhere in the vicinity.

Anyway. Once that was out of my system, we proceeded to the festival. Like last year, a huge hall full of beautiful things. It was interesting though, last year when we went we actually had some money and plans to buy something (for ourselves and as presents). And last year, I saw absolutely loads of things I really liked and could have probably taken home half the exhibits. This year, as we are both broke, we both went round thinking we’ll only think about buying something if we really really really really really like it, and we hardly saw anything we liked at all! Well, not that we didn’t like any of it, a lot of it was lovely, but going round with the mindset that most of it was unobtainable meant that we didn’t really stop to appreciate it. I don’t know if that makes any sense at all, it did feel quite strange. One thing I did like was the absolutely mad stuff by someone called Julia Roxburgh – here’s some examples of her stuff that sells in Fortnum & Mason: mad teapots. Most of her stuff was in this sort of style, I particularly liked the butter dishes, but I’m sorry I don’t care how wonderful and quirky and brilliant they are, I’m not paying 65 quid for a butter dish! Her stuff did make me smile though, and if I was rich and had far too much money I could be tempted.

As we left we still had a good part of the afternoon left, so we decided to make a bit of a day of it and go into Carlisle, as neither of us had been there before. It seemed quite pretty (here’s some pictures of the citadel):


There didn’t seem all that much going on though, so we retraced our steps and headed for Hadrian’s Wall. Now I’m really embarrassed to admit that despite reaching the grand old age of 40 I have never ever seen any of this UNESCO World Heritage Site in my own country. We went to a Roman fort at Birdoswald, with fabulous views:


Phone phobia (furrin version)

I know birdie will understand. And plenty of other people too, judging from previous phone phobia-related comments.

At home I’m not that fond of picking up the phone, but actually once I’ve dialled the number and got through to whoever-it-is I’m wanting to talk to, I’m usually OK. However, here I’ve got not only the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach in anticipation of picking up the phone and talking to someone who may or may not be expecting my call and who may or may not be interested in speaking to me, but when someone does eventually answer (who may or may not actually be the person I want to talk to) I then have to explain myself in another language, which is *much* harder on the phone than in person because I don’t have the benefit of facial expression to help me out (on both my part and the person I’m speaking to). I find it’s much easier in person to communicate in another language – I’m more relaxed, and am not translating every word as I go along as it’s easier to factor in non-verbal elements in order to get the gist of what’s being said. On the phone I’m so busy trying to make sure I catch every word (and for some reason it feels like people talk much faster on the phone than face-to-face, though that’s probably just me) that I’m aware that I’m not really picking up the more subtle nuances, and also it’s much easier for me to make a mistake in what’s being said.

Today I phoned someone, whose number had been given me by someone I’d met but who wasn’t able to be interviewed himself but who recommended this other person. Unusually, he had also had the foresight to give her my number, and so she had an idea who I was and actually phoned me first (I don’t usually have this luxury, it’s often a cold-call to a total stranger), but as I was in an interview at the time my phone was switched off. I returned the call the same day (yesterday) but she had left the office and there was nobody there. So, heart in mouth, I phoned her again this morning, got her this time and she has agreed to meet me later this week.

However – although she has given me a date and time, she has not specified where, but told me to phone her again on her mobile tomorrow evening so that we can arrange that. If I was doing this in English I’d find it much easier to ask her to specify a place there and then, but in a foreign language (even one that I’m reasonably good at), when I’m on the phone and flustered it’s much easier to just say “yes of course, thanks very much” – I need to talk to her much more than she needs to talk to me, and my language isn’t good enough to smooth out any diplomatic issues that may arise from being any pushier. So now I’ve got to go through the whole thing again tomorrow! Argh!

This scenario isn’t actually that unusual. I’ve found it quite frustrating that people will give you snippets of information, or partially agree to something, but don’t give all the required information in one go. Another example, over the weekend I emailed someone whom I had been told by her colleague had done a study in an area of interest and relevance to my research, to ask if I could interview her this week. This morning I’d still had no response, so I phoned her this morning too (heart in mouth, the usual thing), to find that she hadn’t actually done that research at all but had contracted it out so didn’t think an interview would be useful. When I asked her about the contracted out research it turns out there was a report done, which she was happy to send me in another email – but why couldn’t she have just said that in a return email, rather than wait for me to chase it up by phone? It doesn’t seem to occur to people to offer solutions that are not exactly what is being asked for but which could be just as helpful. Likewise, other people say they will let me know their availability for an interview, but won’t tell me there and then, so I have actually put off contacting other people to arrange things in the meantime in case I have to drop everything in order to finally get the interview I’ve been after since I got here two months ago. If I don’t hear soon that’s another phone call I’m going to have to make. Sigh.

Ooh, this has turned out a bit more ranty than I intended it to! I must be tired!


So, I’m flying down south on Sunday (Christmas Eve) to spend Christmas Day with my parents. I’ve wrapped their presents, and have received a few for me (from my SoF secret santa, and from my sister in Germany) which I want to take with me so that I have a couple of other presents to open on the morning.

Imagine my joy then, when I read on the SoF Secret Santa thread that airlines are saying that Christmas presents cannot go into the hold wrapped. I checked on the orange plane (as my niece calls them – guess the budget airline) website and, indeed, all presents have to go through unwrapped. I am SO CROSS!!!! I can cope with unwrapping mum and dad’s presents and rewrapping them when I arrive, as the surprise isn’t spoilt for them. But I don’t want to open my own presents early – even as a young kid, although I loved sneaking into my parents’ bedroom to look at those enticingly wrapped presents, I was never tempted to open even one early as the anticipation of opening them all in one massive present-opening splurge on Christmas morning was too great. Where’s the fun of opening presents on Christmas morning already knowing what all of them are? I realise for practical purposes that sometimes it’s inevitable that you already know what your gift is, like my present from HD which I chose, and which I’m not going to get till later in the week anyway when I see him. But those couple of presents from abroad are sitting here, enticingly wrapped, and are really adding to my anticipation of Christmas (yes, I know, I’m a big kid, so sue me). Thanks to this silly rule, I’ve either got to open them early, on my own before I leave, or wait till I get back home in the New Year when Christmas is all over and all the magic has gone.

I just cannot understand the point of this unwrapped present rule. Luggage is subject to X-rays which can see through thick suitcases, piles of clothes, and lots of other stuff. So how come they can’t see through a layer of cheap paper? It’s so stupid, I can’t believe how wound up it’s got me. Grrrr. Proof, if ever it was needed, that the Grinch really has stolen Christmas.

Who are they trying to fool?

Since I’ve been in Glasgow I’ve been mainly getting around by bus. One of the common whinges I’ve noticed in the Metro letters page (I’m such a highbrow reader) is the number of buses that aren’t in service. Pretty early on I got used to the “Sorry Not In Service” sign and would roll my eyes and continue to shiver whilst waiting for the next one that actually deigned to go somewhere useful.

Since the New Year, I’ve noticed that the sign has changed subtlely. Now it says “Sorry I’m Not In Service”. What the hell is all that about? Like personalising it slightly is going to make the situation better and less irritating? That I’ll blame the bus and not the driver or the bus company for being left standing at the bus stop? Goodness only knows how much they paid someone to come up with that. Gah.

Carry On Call Centre

After mentioning last week that I’m mildly irritated that I don’t get a phone line and broadband till 29th December, imagine my joy when I got home last night to find that my introductory “Welcome to BT” letters detailing my new account were addressed to a Mr [not my initial][not my name]. So I phoned up the call centre today, to get them to change it to Ms [my initial][my name]. Which, correct me if I’m wrong, seems like a rather straightforward thing to do.


Firstly, because I wasn’t Mr [not my initial][not my name] I got passed to another department who deal with people calling who aren’t the person named on the letter, whereupon I explained what had happened, to be told by the call centre operator that in all his years of working for BT he had never ever come across a case of the letter being addressed to the wrong person. Hooray, I thought, I’m making history. We established that the email address that had been generated for me ([my initial][my name][number]@….) was the obvious one to be electronically generated from my initial and name, and a totally unobvious one to be generated if the person who had originally placed the order was Mr [not my initial][not my name]. However, that wasn’t enough to stop the operator telling me that as the account was now in Mr [not my initial][not my name]’s name, that the only way this could be changed would be for Mr [not my initial][not my name] to phone up BT to cancel the order himself and then they could put in a new order in my name.

Imagine my joy.

I pointed out to them that Mr [not my initial][not my name] didn’t in fact live at that address and that he had not placed that order, but as I wasn’t Mr [not my initial][not my name] and so wasn’t the account holder I could not authorise any change to the account. In fact, the only way that that could be resolved would be for them, out of the goodness of their hearts, to close it without Mr [not my intial][not my name]’s authority and charge me £74.99 for doing it!

At this point I was just about to reach my hand down the phone and whup him upside the head, whilst the other students in this room listening to my end of the conversation were in stitches, but instead I remained calm, pointed out the utter ridiculousness of the situation and the fact that he was, in fact, calling me a liar by not accepting that BT had just made a mistake and then charging me for the privilege, and then I asked to speak to a manager. He asked me to call back to do that, I refused and demanded to speak to a manager then and there, and so then I got put on hold for 20 minutes. I felt like Phoebe in Friends, in that episode where she hangs on the phone to the bank for 24 hours thinking it’s a freephone number. Cue sharing of BT horror stories and speculation as to whether they were leaving me on hold for ever to try to make me give up and guesses as to how long I would be left holding, and wondering whether they could hear what we were saying whilst I was on hold, all the time listening to the most irritating muzack I think I’ve ever heard. Just when I started to think that I would be found in a year’s time in the same position covered in cobwebs, he returned and promised to sort it out within the hour. To give him his due, he phoned back 20 minutes later with everything resolved, apologised and had made sure that the engineer still came on the same day (I had to place a new order which would have meant delaying the engineer even longer). But really – how hard is it to admit a simple mistake and change a name on a database, when the email address and bank details all pointed to me being who I said I was? Whatever happened to the customer even occasionally being right?