Friday, 27 December 2013

Hospital at Christmas

One of the things I don’t miss about being a Hospital Porter is having to work through Christmas. There was no special roster for the Christmas and New Year period; if you’re shift was down for that day, you worked it, end of. I worked on Christmas Day numerous occasions. Getting an early shift wasn’t so bad because you finished at 2 PM and could go home. But if you had a late shift you had to start at 2 PM and if it were a night shift 10 PM. This meant you had the prospect of your work looming over you all day and you couldn’t drink much alcohol. Once you arrived at work though it wasn’t too bad. There was a different atmosphere in the hospital than usual. Some of the staff would be wearing tinsel, holly and even Santa hats. Christmas songs would be played over loudspeakers and nurses would pass you the odd mince pie on wards you passed through. Both the patients and staff generally would be in a happy, Christmassy mood and you’d feel humbled about your own problems when you consider the patients who were forced to live in hospital over Christmas. And then your Senior would hand you a voucher for a free meal at the staff cafeteria, including turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce and of course Christmas pudding for afterwards; only brandy butter was off limits because of the ban on drinking at work. Depending on which chef was on, you might also have a few extra mince pies flung in your direction too. When I was a Theatre Porter we even had a heated trolley of food brought down from the kitchen to the department. There would be jokes, laughter and crackers pulled and sometimes it felt sad to go home. We also had a carol choir at my hospital, organized by a lady who worked in the linen store, which I joined. A few days before Christmas we would spend an evening travelling all over the hospital singing in every ward. The patients and nurses would smile at us, some would even join in. We always had Christmas cards from management and some years they’d even organize a special dinners where they’d act as waiters and serve us; very often one or two of them would come in on Christmas Day to say hello and wish us Season’s Greetings. These are my memories of Christmas at the hospital.

This is now the third Christmas since my departure from Portering, if you include the one where I was under suspension. However I’m still in contact with some of my Extremely Proud and Dignified Brother and Sister Porters and they’ve kept me informed of any developments there; and from what they’ve told me this year’s Christmas tells a very different story. The vouchers, special dinners are all gone and the cards, mince pies and music far less frequent. With it has gone the happiness that we all used to enjoy. No doubt this lack of good cheers will reflect on the patients, their well-being and the level of care they receive. One Porter I know puts it very bluntly: “Well, Carillion (the Facilities contractor) didn't disappoint this year. 1pm, no management in sight already. No indoors Christmas lunch. No vouchers, or at least sign of recognizing best workers, who left the best of 'em during whole year inside hospital walls. No collective 'Merry Christmas' card, from WHOLE management (not one person). Not that, having similar experience of previous three years, I hoped for anything else... Just a bunch of mercenaries, that what we are for this 'PLC'. Fuck you very much, too.” This is definitely symptomatic of the general malaise that has set in throughout the entire NHS. The cause is underfunding, privatization and increasingly stressful and restrictive working practices, see: The closing of the social club is another symptom of this degeneration, see: Is it too late to stop it, can it be reversed? I don’t know; I’m afraid I have my doubts.