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‘What has changed in the last 100 years?’

This article is over 18 years, 7 months old
Almost 100 years ago the socialist author Robert Tressell wrote a novel, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, which powerfully described the exploitation of workers. Healthcare assistant Phil Reilly compares his own experience today working in a hospi
Issue 1855

THE YEAR is 2003. I work in the NHS and I find myself relating more each day with the character Frank Owen (the house painter) from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.

Can anyone explain to me why I work in a hospital with a three-star rating, yet seriously ill patients or, as the hospital prefers to call them, ‘clients’ are expected to be happy with lying in soiled linen? The hospital has to wait for the clean linen to be delivered and distributed amongst the wards, as linen washed by an outside private firm out of the local area is a cheaper option.

Can anyone explain why it’s acceptable for ‘clients’ or, as I prefer to call them, ‘patients’ to be left half-naked while staff wait for clean nightwear to be delivered to the wards along with the clean linen? Please tell me I’m overreacting, but I was frustrated and angry to find myself in a situation last year that I found most upsetting. Seriously ill people are mostly rushed into hospital and do not usually have the opportunity to pack toiletries.

It’s the hospital’s responsibility to provide adequate soap, wipes and towels so they can wash whilst they have their own toiletries brought in. Of course not everyone can afford these luxuries (homeless or poor). Sadly this is not always the case, as I found last September. After being rushed into hospital and not having their own toiletries, a patient needed to be bed-bathed, especially as the patient was incontinent.

I found that not only were there no wipes to wash with, but there were no gloves either. I decided to do the almost daily routine of walking from ward to ward to find the essentials, only to find that the other wards were in the same situation. Wards were reduced to washing patients with wipes that were normally used for walls and floors. One ward was even using incontinence knickers for wipes. This was in the same month the hospital was rewarded with three stars. How was this possible?

I consider the management of this hospital (Wirral Hospital Trust) to be extremely superficial. A new revolving door on the main entrance (costing over £1 million) and beds with phones, TVs and internet access are seen as important moves within the hospital, but simple gloves, wipes and linen are not. Talk about sell the sizzle, not the sausage!

If the living conditions of the patients isn’t bad enough, then the poor staff surely need your pity. Since the trust contracts came into force in the early 1990s, staff have been expected to work alongside one another on different pay scales, and expected to work nights and weekends for no extra pay. In fact, we have only just started to receive bank holiday money. For example I recently worked:

Saturday night: 21.00 – 07.45 Sunday night: 21.00 – 07.45 Monday late: 16.00 – 21.30 (I was meant to come to work at 14.30, but I took it upon myself to wait until four o’clock.) Tuesday early: 07.30 – 15.30 Wednesday early: 07.30 – 15.30 Thursday early: 07.30 – 15.30

I had no extra pay, nor did I receive much sleep. So much for the caring profession! Back to Frank Owen. I’m scared and frustrated by colleagues’ lack of concern for these problems raised and have in fact started to see them as the norm. I have actually heard people saying such pathetic excuses as ‘It’s not for the likes of us.’ Who are they to be so much better than us? I’m truly sorry for my lengthy ramble, but I just needed to let off steam to someone that cares!

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