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The beginning of a slow death for the British healthcare system

For years I’ve been a staunch defender of the NHS in Great Britain. When Germans speak questioningly (or sometimes downright badly) of it, I’ve always said it provides fair, efficient, good quality care for the patients and is brilliant for the doctors.

Brilliant for the doctors because of the excellent, well-planned teaching it delivers to its medical students.

Brilliant because of the on-the-job training it offers its junior doctors, well integrated alongside the service they provide for patients.

Brilliant because of its centrally organized junior doctor training program that requires doctors to work in a mixture of super-sized university hospitals and smaller district generals, allowing them to learn to deal with varying levels of resources and to get used to working with bosses with different methods and ideas.

Brilliant because of the research and audit which is incorporated into each clinical role, however big or small the hospital.

Brilliant because of the chance to very often work in a team of international doctors and allied health-care professionals.

But for years, the NHS has been in trouble. Largely it seems because of poor management. Possibly because such a system is not sustainable.

There have been signs of it floundering, but the NHS machine has trundled along – mainly due to the commitment, diligence and good will of all its workers.

This is about to change big time.

A government seeking to cut costs has had the idea to change the pay scale of doctors. Out of office hours work was previously financially rewarded on a different scale to care of patients during normal office hours. Henceforth however, doctors should be paid the same regardless of whether they are in work on a Monday morning or missing a day spent with the family on Saturday to be in work. This means up to a 30-40% pay cut for some for exactly the same work at anti-social hours. This is being shamefully sold to the public as a move towards better round the clock care. 

But with this move, the good will is quite understandably coming to an end. Doctors are on the march. They have taken to the streets and to social media platforms. Yesterday 20,000 doctors (and seemingly every single one of my doctor friends on Facebook) turned up in protest to a rally in London against the proposed new contract.

And it’s not just about the money. Doctors (along with nurses, teachers) have had a pay freeze for the past 5 years already and haven’t really been heard to grumble about it. At the core is the lack of value that the state-based system places on its workers, the fear that the quality of doctors will suffer with the proposed changes (with many bound to consider better options abroad or in another branch altogether) and the suspicion that the NHS is being surreptitiously pushed towards privatisation.

From the viewpoint of a partly privatised healthcare system here in Germany, I don’t see this as being all evil. The question is if this is the end of the NHS as we know it.

Welcome Refugees

„Since when are you interested in nature programmes?“ asked my husband as I flicked on ‚Planet Earth‘ on Netflix.

I shrugged and settled into watching baby polar bears climb out of hibernation after a long winter on the Arctic and the soothing voice of David Attenborough.

„Since when do you care about drinking bio-milk“, asked my husband with a raised eyebrow. I told him how I had only recently learnt of calves being dragged away from their mothers during feeding so that milk can be collected and the distress of both mother and calf during this process. Biologically friendly farms on the other hand, allow the calves to finish feeding as well as resting cows between pregnancies.

Since when did I become so emotional, I asked myself as I could barely stop tears welling up as I heard the story of a friend’s difficult delivery and the short separation from her newborn baby which she had to endure as the baby was kept on intensive care.

As cliche as it may sound, since becoming a mother is the simple answer to all these questions.

Since when did we care so much about the refugees from Syria and how our country responds to the ’swarms of migrants‘?

Since we saw the horrific picture of the lifeless body of a baby boy washed up on the shore. The message suddenly hit home to everyone. An image which spoke to every parent, every sibling, to every one of us.

I’ve been meaning to share the story of my family’s migration to the UK from India for a while. But that story seems inconsequential in comparison to the plight of refugees arriving daily on the shores and borders of Europe.

Because we were economic migrants. We weren’t driven away from India because it was torn by war, but chose instead to leave the relative comfort of our middle-class home, the love and warm embrace of our extended family and our place in society there.

My parents were pulled to the UK by the promise of postgraduate medical training, the chance to see and experience the land of Shakespeare and Wordsworth’s daffodils (my mother is a postgraduate of English literature) and the vague idea of providing something more for their children. Initially without the idea of settling there forever. But somehow they never left.

And part of the reason we never left, was because of the many English families who made us feel welcome. The pensioner friends who taught my father how to cook English casseroles, encouraged my young mother with her career and who introduced us children to the delights of childhood in the UK – from strawberry picking to Mayday parades and barn dancing to bell ringing.

These many acts of kindness shaped our future in a way we could not have known. It helped us to integrate into a new, western society without too much effort. And without a doubt contributed to our success here.

And the future of the many refugees and migrants who arrive today lies in our hands. Be it through donations or simply through the way we choose to interact with the new members of our society.

‚Blogger fuer Fluechtlinge‘ is one such initiative in Germany which channels the efforts of those who want to help in a direct way.

We should not however forget that there are very many ways to say welcome.

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