My own experience of cancer treatment over the past 18 months has been a really good example of this. Amazingly caring, committed staff all pulling together to ensure I consistently get the very best of treatment, delivered in a holistically caring manner, with nothing too much trouble along the way. I really couldn't ask for anymore, and had this been my only experience of the NHS at work, I would be blissfully ignorant of any problems, and protectively defensive about anyone who had the audacity to fault it in any way whatsoever.
Until this bullying and intimidation is sorted out throughout the organisation at root and branch level, and a new climate of openness and acceptance of human error is encouraged, the NHS is likely to remain in its chronically ill state.
Thirty years ago, though, education was as much about weeding out unsuitable candidates as imparting the correct skills to the next generation of nurses. Nursing training was undertaken by individual hospitals, so there was a responsibility to ensure that all nurses who would carry their hospital training badge into other settings would maintain that hospital's good reputation. This meant that there was an accountability, a real incentive to instil qualities of care and integrity as well as competence alone.
Recently, not just in nursing, but universally among many training establishments, we have changed the emphasis to ensure as many people as possible pass their courses. Universities and colleges are financially penalised rather than rewarded for drop-out rates, and skills are often assessed in isolation, out of context of performing these skills in a spirit of care and compassion. This means that the trainees who would have been singled-out as unsuitable for their chosen profession in the past and asked to leave the course, are now able to sail on through unhindered towards a profession that really doesn't need them onboard.
When my children were very young, we were on the circuit for trainee nurses to spent two weeks at home with us as part of their training, shortly after the Project 2000 university style of training had been launched. Over a period of a couple of years, we had about 15 or so girls spend time with us; Toby was profoundly disabled with complex medical issues, and I also had two other under fives, so we were a very good environment for them to learn about nursing in the community, and I really valued the extra pair of hands. Most of the girls (not being sexist, we just weren't sent any young men!) were excellent, enormously helpful, hands on and just about wonderful. Only one let all the others down. One day, Toby was extremely ill and needed my total attention. Another child needed an urgent nappy-change. This young lady was sprawled on my sofa reading a book at the time. I asked her to change the nappy, she replied that she didn't need to thanks, because had I forgotten she'd changed one yesterday so I'd already signed it off in her Skills Assessment Checklist.
I talked to her tutor about the incident, who seemed completely unbothered, and suggested that we don't document it in her records because that might bring her overall marks down a bit, which might affect her degree award. Once upon a time, behaviour of this nature would have had a Ward Sister reading her the riot act.
It must be about 15 years since this particular young lady qualified, and I often wonder if she, together with her appalling attitude, is climbing the ranks towards the top of the NHS management structure.
What's also been interesting about the debate since I last wrote is that it's not just the NHS. I've heard stories about education authorities, social workers, housing departments and countless other statutory bodies that would make your hair stand on end. I've got plenty of these stories about both schooling and social care myself, but as I hear more and more with a similar theme I'm beginning to see that while the NHS can be an easy target because we all use it nationally, within local authorities ordinary people are being intimidated and bullied too by the very people paid by the public to serve the very public they are abusing.
The best bits of the past couple of weeks have undoubtedly been the Facebook chats with other mothers of disabled children. We have mostly developed a very gallows form of humour to cope with our challenges, and the more we exchanged the funnier it became, until we virtually had an entire script for a sitcom that included polishing shovels to bury dead professionals in the garden while our "service users" are "accessing the community" that wants to pretend they aren't really there, and I'm busy dropping dead with cancer in the next 10 minutes too. You probably had to be there to really appreciate it, but it had dozens of us howling with laughter and it just went on for days.
Tomorrow I'm off on a 3 day bootcamp, to learn how to write and publish a book, or several, and I really can't wait. Not sure if I'll have the stamina to keep going for three whole days including the commute up to London there and back each day, but sometimes you just have to find a way to do the things that you really want to do, and blow the consequences.
That's one thing I've learnt since this cancer of mine has spread to Stage IV. Time is so precious, I don't know how much more I've got, and if I'm going to write a few bestsellers, and a Miranda sitcom, and sort out the NHS, our education system and every single social worker in the country too, while still finding time for good friends and a lot of laughter, I'd better get my skates on and jfdi.
Wish me luck!