Working in care, you see things every day that would stop someone else’s working week in its tracks. Watching someone die. Having someone verbally, or even physically, assault you. Listening to tearful co-workers saying this is it, they’ve had enough.
These things happen regularly in even the best run care homes. The very nature of caring for vulnerable people, in an industry that doesn’t – and shouldn’t – generate enough profit for big bonuses, will get to the best of us once in a while. Most will blow their noses, remember why it is they do this job, and go back to work. Some really will have hit that limit, and you never see them again. We don’t blame those people; how could we blame those people? Do you blame those people?
“Those people” are no more obliged to work in care than you are, after all. They’ve no less right to change their job than you. And of course you don’t blame those people. You don’t even know about those people. Those people can do whatever they please, so far as you’re concerned – just as long as there aren’t too many of them, and there is another nameless care worker ready to take their place and maintain the service you expect.
But what if all those tearful pledges were made good on the same day? What if the government were to announce a change that meant those carers were ending the month several hundred pounds worse off? What if carers were told that they would have to work even longer hours, making their job more difficult and their down time with family even less? You might expect there would be more resignations that day than any other.
So that day the care home is understaffed. Your wife isn’t being encouraged to eat and therefore hasn’t. Your dad took too long to get out of bed this morning and is therefore shivering in his night shirt at noon. Your Nan is crying mournfully in the corner and no one has gone to see if she’s okay. That this is scene is unthinkable is a testament to the hard work that those carers – the ones you never notice – do every minute of every day. But what if there was a day when there literally weren’t enough of them. Now do you blame the ones that quit? Now do you think they’re obliged to be carers, that you’re entitled to their labour?
Of course, the next day there are still more resignations. The managers want to hire people to replace them, but no one is applying – a scenario not too far removed from the reality today. It’s already really difficult to get able people to apply for the role of Carers and Nursing Assistants. For less money, longer hours and more stress I can believe it would be impossible.
Who do you rant at now? Which individual is being selfish or reckless for changing their job, or not applying for one? What about you? Do you quit whatever it is you do for a living and apply to take up the slack at a care home because, after all, people might die if you don’t? Call me cynical, but I doubt enough people would take on the challenge to make up the shortfall.
Actually, I know who would get ranted at. The carer that didn’t quit. Those that stayed out of duty and those that couldn’t be bothered job hunting just yet, they’d be the same in the eyes of the public. Both of those people would be expected to work harder because hard work needed doing. If either of them decided to work at the same pace they always had, because they didn’t much care about the future of the care home and just wanted to get paid, they would be derided as selfish. It would be their burden to maintain the level of service, because as far as the public is concerned ‘someone has to’.
I write this about being a care worker rather than a junior doctor because it’s the industry I have experience in. I’m sure the daily stresses of being a junior doctor are different, but I’m sure the feeling that you bear the burden for the entire system is the same. I’ve no doubt that if care workers were to strike, for whatever reason, the reaction, from some, would be as entitled – my mother was being looked after just fine for as long as you bore the brunt of working conditions that I don’t know anything about, much less feel obliged to campaign for. The answer would be for us to put up and shut up, rather than our concerns to be addressed.
Anyone bemoaning the number of operations cancelled today should remember that this is the impact of one, carefully controlled, day of industrial action. The impact of even a few of the striking doctors thinking, sod this for a game of cricket, I’m off, would be far worse. They’ve not let you down today. Even if they’d all decided to pack it all in and never return, not covered the emergency procedures, not agreed to return to work if it was necessary to safeguard life, even then they wouldn’t have let you down because they don’t owe you anything. All they actually have to do is turn up and do what they’re paid to do for as long as they’re paid to do it, with the unqualified right to stop if they ever decide that the pay isn’t enough.
The fact is that most NHS workers have been going above and beyond what they’re paid for for years in order to keep the service afloat – the suggestion that they’ve taken a day off in a flight of fancy contradicts all the care and responsibility they’ve evidenced so far. And now they’re going above and beyond again by striking rather than walking. They’re putting themselves on the line to speak up for a service on behalf of everyone that uses it, trying to fix a problem of someone else’s making rather than letting someone else’s mistake screw us all over.
We belittle the junior doctors who say they’ll have to quit their job or leave the area they work in if government changes are implemented. Perhaps we should give that scenario a bit more thought. Not only because it would be a total nightmare if even a few of them did it, and one that would have us thinking of todays industrial action as ‘the good old days’. But also because it might remind us that Junior Doctors are not sims, to be deployed in whatever fashion suits the system, but people. If our entire NHS is based on the idea that some people don’t count, that certain individuals must quietly absorb any injustice for the convenience of others, it is doomed to fail. Those automatons have to eat, have to spend time with their families, and they aren’t automatically generated to meet the demand for their services.
We might find that a strike seems like a massive favour we wished we’d asked of people if we’re ever faced with the alternative.