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Life as an NHS nurse in the 1980s: ‘Nursing requires a particular personality’

Posted on 28/06/2018 by

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Claire Tamimi was born in Ireland, and joined the NHS in 1987. She worked for King’s College hospital for more than 25 years, and now works as a school nurse, health visitor and midwifery adviser

I had a very traditional upbringing in Ireland. My mother was a nurse, and my grandmother was a midwife in Northern Ireland at the time the NHS was founded. I went to an all-girls school, and back then it was always: “Teacher or nurse?” There was a recession in Ireland in the 80s and the hospitals stopped recruiting, so I came to London to do my training and I joined the NHS on 25 May 1987 – a bank holiday Monday.

You appreciate the NHS more when you compare it to another system. It’s much better than the public or private services in Ireland. But in Ireland, nursing is much more highly regarded. You need a good score in your leaving certificate to study it – on a par with, say, engineering – and it isn’t considered lowly. An Irish student who wanted to do medicine but didn’t want to study for seven years might consider nursing as an alternative. I don’t think that would often happen in the UK.

People outside the nursing profession often don’t realise that we have quite a broad spectrum of education under our belts. As well as studying nursing, I also did 18 months’ midwifery training, another year for a registered general nurse degree, and then a public health master’s on top of that. But even if nursing is underappreciated outside the health service, internally nurses are certainly valued. It’s important that we focus on the positives in nursing, because if parents always read in the press that nurses work very hard and don’t get paid well, they’re not going to encourage their children to go down that route. It’s also important to remember that nurses are very good at underestimating ourselves. It’s the way we’re trained; we’re not taught to think we’re fantastic.

Nursing is vocational. It requires a particular personality, and that personality isn’t interested in pursuing wealth and social cachet. The patient always comes first, and that’s how the NHS keeps running, because there’s always someone who will stay this extra half hour, stay with that woman in labour, go without lunch breaks and loo breaks. It’s at the expense of nurses’ health, but patient care is still very good. I’ve been in the health service for 31 years and, in some ways, our job has improved. When I was newly qualified, we had to call the medical team to administer intravenous antibiotics. Nowadays, it’s routine for nurses to do that, and some nurses can prescribe medicine and perform anaesthetics.

Even so, there is a staffing crisis. Bursaries have gone, working patterns are less flexible and nurses are called on to do more and more safeguarding, legal and administrative work, at the expense of caregiving. It’s frustrating. You want to say: “I didn’t do a business degree, I did a nursing degree.” Then there’s Brexit, which, from an NHS perspective, is a disaster. I defy anyone who voted Brexit to say they haven’t been looked after by a foreign nurse or doctor, not to mention cleaners, caterers and everyone else the NHS couldn’t survive without.

• Life as an NHS nurse in the 1960s: ‘I’m glad I had that strictness trained into me’

Source: TheGuardian