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The NHS is a wonderful thing

Now that England is going through another round of health reform, Lynn Young stresses the importance of preserving excellence, compassion, consideration and thoughtfulness for those in need of healthcare

Lynn Young
Primary Healthcare Adviser for the RCN

A number of highly emotional and health-related stories have appeared in the national press since the last edition of Nursing In Practice. The death of David and Samantha Cameron's child, Ivan, and the appalling decline of Jade Goody, which has been plastered over the media for all to see, have been tough to contemplate.

For nurses, it is particularly significant when reading the health stories of famous people, as we cannot resist thinking about (and discussing with friends) human factors that may not be revealed in the media. The fact is that during our careers we have been close to large quantities of human drama, tragedy and crisis.

Children's nurses, particularly those who have worked at Great Ormond Street or similar hospitals in other cities, will have nursed children as disabled, distressed and dependent as young Ivan. They will gain experience and become sad at seeing the heartbreak of families when the result of a hospital stay is not recovery of that child, but a journey home where anxious siblings are waiting.

My goodness, the UK is an unequal nation. Talk about the gap between those born at the bottom of the social ranks, such as Jade, and those who begin life with all the trimmings of economic strength, security and oodles of love from a well-educated and successful family. The NHS is, for sure, a brightly shining jewel for all of us – regardless of our class, colour, creed, age or sex. With all its imperfections, the NHS is certainly capable of responding to people's needs, however vast and complex.

Little Ivan has a crisis in the middle of the night and is taken to St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, and we are confident that the expert clinical team pulled out all the stops and did what they were capable of doing to help make him better. But recovery was not to be.

Jade Goody was raised on the dark side of society, among poverty, drugs, harshness and neglect. At far too young an age, having received very little in the way of nurturing parenting, Jade had to look after her inadequate mother following an accident.

By the time you read this article, Jade's short and extraordinary life will probably have come to a sad end. But, it seems that the world-class Royal Marsden Hospital is taking fine care of her, doing all that the nurses and doctors can in terms of alleviating terribly distressing symptoms and awful pain. The point I am making is that the NHS is indeed spectacular, and while it lives with constant reform and political meddling, it copes with our multiracial, diverse society, and genuinely does what it can to save lives, alleviate suffering and be with us at the end. Clearly, the Camerons have more than enough money to use private healthcare services, but for their son with his very special problems the NHS was the best (and the only) healthcare service that could cope.

Jade started her life in poverty and now, at its end, is making millions of pounds, while the NHS uses modern technology and care to stop her intractable pain and suffering. And so, the tragedy of human drama is played out on our TV screens and in the many newspapers available to us every day. I once read in a health journal that hospitals are the most emotionally charged of organisations, bringing out the very best and worst in us.

Generally, the NHS and healthcare workers are a force for good. Clinicians and managers strive to bring about improvements and increased quality for patients every working day. While we can never be complacent, mistakes are made and care is not always what we would wish for ourselves and our loved ones. On the whole, the NHS does wonderful things for so many people.
We need to remember that we have a prime minister and a leader of the opposition who have had much experience of the NHS. Both men speak highly of the treatment they received during bleak times in their lives and while in the hands of comparative strangers.

Regardless of the credit crunch and other economic disasters, all our efforts must go into keeping the NHS a trustworthy and essential part of our lives.

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I just want to add that in my institution cardiac surgery and invasive cardiology we have strived hard to give a quality care and the whole of the health system is changing with the concept of providing quality-based care as per international standards and we are going for ISO 9001:2004. The
health system is free." - Parmanand Ballah, Mauritius