As I’m sure you’re all aware, the NHS has come under a lot of scrutiny over the past few days. Elderly care in our nation’s hospitals has been condemned by a new report that I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about.

But care of the elderly is an important issue. We are not treating them, we are treating ourselves. We too will grow old and need to rely on future generations to help us meet our needs. Even when considered from a purely selfish perspective, this issue requires that we address it, lest we too are ill-treated. With motives of self-preservation aside, we owe a dignified end to the generations who nurtured us, fought for us and ultimately changed the world for us.

Whilst there is no excuse for the lack of dignity suffered when a nurse – and I use this term to describe both registered nurses and healthcare assistants – forgets to close the curtains surrounding a bed space, perhaps there is a reason. Remember that this report set out to find failings and as a result, has done so. We never hear of commissions set up to examine the outstanding work that the NHS has done, nor the pioneering treatment it is helping to forward.

Consider that in order for the NHS to function in a cost-effective way, it must run constantly at full capacity. To have empty beds and ready nurses ‘just in case’ would be a colossal waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere. As a result, when there is a pandemic, when there is a holiday that calls for heavy drinking, when the winter exposes the masses of people living without heating, the system is forced to cope with far more patients than it was designed to. Suddenly, two nurses feeding two people becomes two nurses feeding four people and as physics hasn’t yet discovered a way for us to be in two places at once, this is simply impossible.

In an ideal world, the NHS could take its cue from retailers and the Post Office, hiring extra staff over difficult periods, but because thorough background checks need to be carried out before anyone is allowed to work with the public, this would prove to be an administrative nightmare. And one thing our health service does not need is more administration. On top of this, new staff would need to be trained in a very specialist trade, costing yet more money that the NHS can ill afford.

And what about volunteers? Though it would be lovely to think that enough members of the general public could be mustered to solve the NHS’s problems, the issue of training costs remain, even if that of wages does not. On top of this, the fact that background checks are still required makes volunteering schemes just as difficult to instigate as new staff.

The nurses that are these must simply cope. And though this is far from ideal, it does not need to mean a drop in care standards. It takes a second to glance over your shoulder to ensure that the curtains are shut around a bed whilst the patient uses a commode. It takes no time at all to make small-talk as you go about the business of taking temperatures and blood pressure. Why isn’t it happening?

Because nurses aren’t thinking. They’re not being deliberately cruel, it’s not that they’re lacking training and it isn’t that they’re negligent. They just have so many other things to think about that seemingly small points like checking the curtain don’t register. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what is fundamentally wrong with the NHS.

Every temperature you take has to be recorded on multiple sheets of paper, which then must be filed and their locations tracked throughout the hospital. If patients are treated somewhere else in the country, their notes must be securely delivered. Yes, centralising data would be expensive initially, but think of the long-term savings in safe transport and man-hours. If you could somehow make all records computerised and centrally stored, you would streamline the entire NHS  and free up a lot of nurses to actually nurse patients.

This country has a really hard time with thinking long-term. Whilst Scandinavians – my only other point of reference – spent the extra money to double glaze their homes years ago and are now reaping the financial rewards, we’re still shelling out a few pounds here and there for secondary glazing film. We lose money by having to replace the film all the time and through the loss of heat – it would have been cheaper long-term just to pay for double glazing. It’s this attitude that has crippled the health service. We need to update it, to spend money now to turn it into a viable resource which still keeps the various records that are required by law, but which does so in an efficient way. Only by doing this will we be able to give nurses the thinking time to address ‘small’ problems like lack of dignity.

This long-term approach is the one we should apply across the board. Rather than treating the symptoms, we should attack the disease, as it were. We need to spend money addressing the food served in hospitals, which at present has little to no nutritional value. How is the body supposed to heal without the vitamins and minerals it needs to do so? By improving the food, the NHS could also save money on supplements as diet would provide the necessary nourishment. Shorter stays and fewer drugs means money saved, after all. And – bottom line – less dependency on the health service means that people retain a greater degree of personal pride and therefore, the ever-ellusive dignity.

Ultimately, our society needs to become one of education and immunisation. We need to prepare for the future, rather than attempt to fix the past. Only in doing this, we can save the NHS – an orgaisation which, at its core, is an outstading national achievement.

(Published, as requested by Cybèle)

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