All posts by Fiona Steggles

What Fiona Did …. or Didn’t Do

There is one thing about being a patient that I generally battle with more than almost anything else. It’s not the pain, the inconvenience, the boredom or even the lack of dignity. What I find takes real effort … and I suspect this is true for many patients …is in the Staying Cheerful.

Katy Carr managed it. If you never read What Katy Did,  here’s a quick summary. In schmaltzy American 1872 style, Katy began life as an active teenager, fell off a swing, was as miserable as sin for a few weeks until Invalid Cousin Helen arrived and showed her how to deal with what she described as the School of Pain. Katy bucked up, and despite the inconvenience of being paralysed in 1872 (they didn’t even carry her downstairs), she stayed cheerful ….. And learnt lots of helpful lessons about Patience and Making The Best of Things along the way.

Fast forward 144 years. Fiona began last week as an active 46 year old looking forward to a skiing weekend away. She fell off a mountain, tore a knee ligament and was miserable as sin. No Cousin Helen on hand to gently wipe her brow with ‘the sweetest smile’ but she did have Sister Moira to point out the attractiveness of the Mountain Rescue Man, BFF Carol to take her to lunch and buy her weird presents and BFF Sarah to give her wine and take the mick. On top of that she had 5 other wonderful women to jump to attention every time she dropped a crutch,   and a husband and friends waiting at home to carry on the job.

But all that support – which, luckily for me, I’ve had every time I’ve been ill or injured – means you feel a bit ungrateful if then you become a whinging, whiny patient. So you try your best not to be. It’s hard though. Really hard.

Some people don’t try at all of course. They put a miserable status up on Facebook about their third cold this year, and are a little put out if they don’t get at least 10 comments saying ‘Poor you, hope you get better soon’. Others complain vociferously to nurses, doctors, cleaners, anyone who will listen, about their plight and how it is worse than anyone else’s. And when you are low, a little wallowing in the rubbish situation you find yourself in is tempting…. And let’s be honest, we all do it every now and then.

Overall though I think Katy ( and Cousin Helen) got it right.  No-one wants to hang round with a grumpy, bad tempered, miserable-as-sin  patient,  however sorry they feel for them.  It’s blinking difficult being the healthy one too, constantly having to consider someone else, feeling sad at what the patient is missing and watching your tongue. (Remember – no one talk about the brilliant sunny ski-ing in front of Fiona.)

And Staying Cheerful has got to be better for your recovery. Sister Moira, as well as providing useful distraction on the attractiveness of rescuers, occasionally provides a bit of sound therapeutic advice. ‘If crying is going to make you feel better, go ahead and cry your eyes out. But if you keep crying and just feel worse afterwards, then don’t bother. Distract yourself instead.’

Staying Cheerful. Making the Best of Things. Katy probably would have put #countyourblessings on her Twitter feed. And posted very schmaltzy quotes on Facebook. Ultimately though she was happier because of what she did. Probably a good lesson for anyone in the School of Pain.

Curtains for the NHS?

Let  the person in the NHS responsible for soft furnishings please step forward.  Come on, stop hiding behind those dodgy curtains.  Let’s have a good look at you.

I’ve always been curious about who makes decisions about soft furnishings.  Let’s be honest, there’s not much else to think about when you’re sat on your bed.  You’ve already watched the bin being emptied, noted the woman opposite you turn a page of her book, so your eyes and your mind wander to those green curtains and the not-matching green bedspread.

Green.  Now there’s a colour I understand.  Presumably the NHS soft furnishing Tsar – or more likely soft furnishing committee –  rejected a number of other colours for sensible reasons.  Red – too much like blood.  Blue – too likely to blend in with nurses. Black – let’s not go there.   Green is calming, cool, cathartic, cleansing and load of other comforting words that begin with a C.  So ok…..I approve of green though I do wonder why yellow got rejected.  Is it too happy for hospital?

Anyway who actually picked the fabric?  The one I’m looking at now with no fewer than four different green shades in splodges on it.  It’s not what I would pick.  Who walked through the NHS fabric shop looking for just the right shade for my ward?  Does the NHS fabric shop have anything plain in it?  Or anything at all in black?  Did the furnishing Tsar spend hours sifting through rolls of green fabric before he found this perfect four-splodge version?

Thinking about it, maybe there was method behind his material madness.  Presumably as our Tsar is walking past those rolls of fabric, he’s thinking feverishly,  ‘It needs to match the bedspreads.’  Let’s be honest after a thousand patients, and hopefully a thousand washes, our NHS bedspreads could end up  a fair few different shades of green.  Maybe that’s where the splodges come in?  I wonder if he worries about such things, our Tsar? Does he feel stressed at the  pressure of buying tasteful textiles to accompany hospital treatment?  Is this a person comfortable in his choices or is this a man not trusted by his wife to pick his own ties let alone the bedroom curtains?

I’m assuming he’s a man which is, of course, very unfair and indeed sexist of me.  I’ve known plenty of women with terrible taste in furnishings if their living rooms are anything to go by.   My family once had to spend a huge amount of time sat on a lilac sofa in an intensive care waiting room.  The colour of that sofa was much discussed, and is now part of family history.  ‘It’s as bad as the lilac sofa’ , they say.   Lilac.  I bet a woman picked it.

Thinking about it, this is not an easy job.  Which normal person ever finds it easy to pick curtains? My living room lasted for years with no curtains, the neighbours looking in as they walked their dogs, simply because I couldn’t decide which blinking curtains to buy.  I’d spend hours in fabric shops looking for that elusive pattern that was just the right shade.   I only actually put some up when we needed to sell the house.  I’d be useless at furnishing a hospital.

So come on out soft furnishing Tsar.  I have reflected on the problem and it’s not curtains for you.   Give the man (or woman) a medal instead.

When an NHS relationship ends

Oh how sad it is when a relationship ends.  The pain of losing that one person who understands you more than anyone else.     No more chats as you lie in bed.  No-one around who you really trust as much as you trusted him.   Having to start a new relationship with someone else who might not prove to be as reliable, or thoughtful .

I have lost my consultant.   And I am grieving.

It sounds daft doesn’t it?  But for us NHS patients, having a long term  relationship with a doctor who we really trust makes a  difference.   I met my consultant  11 years ago.  I’d spent 2 or 3 years being passed around the NHS, short term dates with doctors who knew very little about my immune system problem and often couldn’t even remember my name.   I remember hearing his voice for the first time outside my  room, telling a cluster of junior doctors about my condition.   ‘This might actually be someone who can help’, I thought.

And he did.  I’d been warned to have no more children, but he said I could.   I’d been told there was nothing that could be done to stop the damage to my kidneys, but he said there was.  I’d been left with no hope but he gave me bundles of it.

Over the past decade, he has fought to get me the best,  and often very expensive,  treatment.  He has rushed me into hospital on a few occasions, insisted I got a bed on the right ward.   He’s overridden hospital procedure when it’s not in my best interests.   He’s been blunt with me about the future when I’ve been scared about new therapies. He’s given me his mobile for whenever  I needed to talk directly to him ( I’ve used it twice in 10 years).  He’s been the only person in a long line of medics who asked me how I felt emotionally after being put under sedation for five days in intensive care.  Without doubt he has saved my life on a couple of occasions, and without him my cheeky, lovely 9 year old son would not be here.

And now he’s gone.    And unlike most normal break-ups, I’m given no warning and no reasons.  I turn up to clinic a few times and he’s not there.  I ask and I am told that he’s taking leave, and then it’s extended leave, and then it’s ‘no we don’t think he’s coming back’.

It has to be this way of course.  Anyone is free to move jobs, retire, take a break.    You can’t have patients knowing about a doctor’s personal life.  It’s just not appropriate for anyone in the NHS to tell me why he’s no longer my doctor.  I completely understand and accept that.

But I am bereft.  And worried about him and his sudden departure.  I hope he is well.  I can’t even write him a note to thank him.  To point out to him the immeasurable effect he has had on our family.

Instead, somewhat wearily, I start the search for a new relationship.

Careless Words

I have an amazing friend.  After years of struggling with alcohol, she’s managed through a great deal of pain and endurance, and a little help from AA, to stay off the booze for 4 years.  She pointed this out to her GP recently.  His response? “Good .  Now you need to lose some weight.”

Another friend tells a tale of talking to a doctor about fibroids.  They discussed whether it could affect her fertility.  On finding out she was 35, the doctor said, “Well, what have you been waiting for? You need to get on with it.” She promptly burst into tears.

I can tell a couple of stories too.  The time a midwife gave me an injection just before I was due to have a D and C to remove my miscarried baby.  ‘Injection done.  That’s the worst over with.” Really?  The time a doctor berated me for putting on weight before realising I’d been on a large dose of steroids for six months.  The time a consultant who’d never met me before insisted I was facing the rest of my life on dialysis.  He was wrong.

Everyone can put their foot in it now and then.  I’ve dropped some right clangers in my time.  But I think working with patients requires an extra effort in choosing the words you use.

I have another story of a junior doctor, who came across me in tears after I’d received bad news.  “Fiona,” he said.  “This time will pass.”  He was right, and like the ill chosen words above,  those 4 words he uttered have stuck with me and helped me through the darkest of times.

Dear NHS staff.  Us patients are really vulnerable.  We’re often at one of the most difficult points in our lives.  Our conversations with you are about intensely personal subjects.   We’ve waited for hours for the doctors round on the ward.  Or months for the outpatient appointment.  You are the person who we think can cure us.  Or who we trust to care for us when we can’t care for ourselves.  We hang on your every word and analyse them after you’ve gone.

Careless words might not cost lives, but they can cost peace of mind.   And a loss of confidence in those who are treating us.   But well chosen words can bring hope too.  Remember that when you talk to us , and remember that your words will stay with us long, long after you’ve moved onto the next patient.



Cystic Fibrosis – a good news story?

I do love it when I hear a good news story.  The medical breakthrough, the new therapy that’s going to save lives, or if not, at least improve them.

There was one such story doing the rounds last week.  A new gene therapy for Cystic Fibrosis, a debilitating lung condition which leads to an average life expectancy of 41. In the trial the lungs of patients who took the drug improved over the period by about 3% while those who didn’t take the gene therapy saw their lungs decline.

We were introduced to a lively 16 year old, Mary, on the Today programme on Radio 4. She’d taken part in the trials without knowing whether she was part of a control group or actually taking the drug.  Within a month she’d noticed an increase in energy.  She was able to do more school work and activities with her family.  Her mum, Debbie, said it was ‘like a magic trick’ and pointed out, by the time the trial ended, her condition had improved so much that they could leave her wheelchair in the car.

Brilliant.  Fantastic.  What an amazing good news story.  Except of course it turns out it’s not such good news for Mary.  Yes it’s a significant breakthrough, but in scientific terms, the effects were ‘variable and modest’.   Her doctors  can’t just put her on the drug without more research.  And the universities that did this research have run out of funding.  Prof Eric Alton from Imperial College London says the group is “in negotiation with a large number of companies to say we need a rapid study”.

But rapid isn’t exactly the word I would use.  Even if one of the pharmaceutical companies takes it on, the earliest Professor Alton can see a study happening is ‘the end of next year’.  18 months away.  And that’s just the next study.  It’ll be at least five years until the therapy will be available to patients.

Isn’t it time to speed this stuff up a bit? Mary’s cystic fibrosis  is getting worse.  Since she came off the trial she’s gone downhill, had recurrent infections, been hospitalised.  And yet it’s a full year and a half before another study might even start.

We can all imagine why.  Endless emails, meetings, reports which take a month to write and then another month for someone to read, medical bodies to consult.  And of course we’re relying on a pharmaceutical company deciding the drug is commercially viable.  That the drug will make enough profit.  That the NHS will be able to afford to buy it.    All this talk takes time.  Meanwhile  Mary is struggling to breathe.

I’m not a red-tape whinger.  Sometimes what others call red tape, I think is sensible health and safety.  But I object to a system which seems to accept this type of delay.  What can’t the Medical Research Council, the National Institute of Health Research and the pharmaceutical companies get into a room together next week and work this out?  Let’s start the next trial next month not next year.

Debbie, Mary’s mum ended her BBC interview talking about the second study.  “Anything that can be done to help the second phase is …….” She paused, straining to find the right word.  “Paramount” is what she came up with.   But what word do you pick to describe the urgency when you’re looking at your 16 year old daughter gasping for air?

An NHS waiting List

Ok.  I have an NHS waiting list for you.  Oh.  Not that type.  That’s a completely different blog. I haven’t written it yet.  Too busy harassing my consultant’s secretary to find out when I’ll get the treatment I need.

No, I’m referring to that other type of waiting, which is just as prevalent in the NHS but doesn’t get talked about half as much.  The one in outpatients where we sit for hours on uncomfortable plastic chairs, waiting for our name to be called, staring at posters reminding us of all the ailments we may yet succumb to.

It seems to be accepted behaviour within the NHS that patients will have to wait for anything from 45 minutes to 3 hours at outpatient clinics.  A consultant at once said to me, “You know how most people bring a book to clinics?  At this clinic we suggest you bring a tent!”  Ho ho ho.

If a clinic has an average waiting time of over 90 mins, (which mine does), surely there is something wrong with the way it’s set up.   And yet no-one within the NHS seems to take responsibility for it.  Us patients don’t complain of course; we’re too desperate to see our doctors.  And most of us accept that in our stretched-to-bursting NHS, there are too many patients, waiting to see too few medics, getting squeezed into clinics that are full already.

What to do then? The obvious answer is just not to put as many patients in the clinics.  But I want everyone who needs to see their doctor to get an appointment.   And I’ve been squeezed myself into too many clinics that are already full to complain about that.  But I do have an NHS waiting list, designed if not to solve the problem, perhaps to make the process of being ill, a little less painful.

  1. Information is everything. If I know my clinic is overrunning by two hours, and the reason why e.g. my consultant has had to attend an emergency, then I can decide to come later, nip to the supermarket on the way in etc.  My mobile phone number is checked by the receptionist every time I go to clinic.  Why then does no-one ever phone me?
  2. At the very least tell me when I get there. Take a tip from the train companies who have now mostly learnt this lesson. At the moment the only way I can work out how long I’ve got to wait is by eyeing up the pile of medical notes and the people around me.  Massive pile of files and 20 people scrunched up on the flip-down chairs with their legs being tripped over in the corridor equals a long time to wait.  Small pile and just a couple of people not looking too fed up, equals  I might be seen within the hour.   A more scientific means would better so I can choose to go and get a coffee or at least text my lunch meeting to tell them I’m going to be late.
  3. Barring emergencies, insist every clinic, yes every clinic, starts on time. It’s a tad frustrating to fight through rush hour traffic to get in for 0830, only to see your consultant arrive at 0915 and start making coffee for every member of staff there.   First patient is seen at 0930, an hour after they were told to arrive.   I love the fact my consultant is the human type  who would make coffee for everyone,  but frankly his brain is so huge it should be used for curing patients rather than checking who wants milk.   Get someone else to make the coffee.
  4. Treat us as human beings and make it as comfortable as possible for us to wait.  I’m not suggesting sofas and smart TVs but an apology,  updates on our place in the queue and some comfortable chairs for the elderly and infirm wouldn’t go amiss.
  5. So we wait 90 minutes to see the consultant, and then another 30 to get our blood taken. Guess what?  We’ve gone over two hours in the car park.  So not only have we spent all morning sat on plastic chairs with no one telling us how long we’ll be there, but the hospital trust is actually going to charge us an extra couple of quid in parking for the privilege.   There’s an easy solution to stop us muttering as we head to our cars.  Put in the sort of system that shopping centres have where you can get your car park charge reduced by getting it stamped by reception.  Job done.

A final thought.   If we’re not careful, we patients can head down into a spiral of self-pity.  The ‘why me’ thoughts.  Most of the time we try to forget our illnesses, make them fit around our lives rather than fitting our lives around our illness.  But an outpatient appointment is a stark reminder that all is not well and a long wait can lead to thoughts we’d rather not contemplate.  Keeping us cheerful as we squirm on the plastic seats might just help.


Boredom in hospital

In case you haven’t realised it yet, your time in hospital will be split as follows.   1% Treatment.   99% Waiting for Treatment.

If you are very seriously ill then the 99% will pass in a blur and it won’t matter.  But for most of us, while being in hospital can be depressing, painful, stressful, and so on,  the worst thing about it is the tedium.  If your ailments don’t get you, then there is a real possibility you could actually end up being bored to death.

You might think ‘Ah well.  I can use the time to do something worthwhile.  Write a book.  Learn how to crochet.  Become fluent in Mandarin.’  Forget it.  You simply don’t have the brainpower because of all the depression, pain and stress in the last paragraph.    Even reading something really simple can just feel like too much effort.

You know you’re in the grips of tediumitis when you start taking an unhealthy interest in the slightest movement in the ward.  When you find yourself putting down Take a Break magazine to watch someone empty the bin,  you need help.

So in the fine tradition of blogging lists,  here is my list of  five ways to keep yourself occupied on the ward without putting too much effort into it.

  1. Listen in to other people’s conversations. It’s unavoidable, so for the only time in your life , completely guilt-free.  Be as nosey as you like.   People have really  in-depth, interesting discussions in hospital, ranging from   ‘What’s wrong with my bowels?’ to whispered ‘ What ARE we going to do with Grandma when she gets out?’   If the curtains are drawn around the bed,  strain your ears as much as you like.  If they are open,  try to show a little discretion. I once had a family of six who were visiting the next bed, actually turn their chairs round so they could hear better what my doctor was saying.
  2. Hospital Bingo. You can make up your own list of phrases to tick off of course but here are a few to start you off. Have you got good veins? (Normally said by a nervous nurse with a needle.) Are my pills ready to take home? (Normally said at 7pm by a patient who was told he could go home at 10am.). Here’s your toast and it’s warm.  (Never comes up).
  3. Read your hospital notes. If they’ll let you. If  you manage to get past the ridiculous hospital procedures about whether you can or not, (another blog post pending), then reading your notes is extremely interesting.  Not only do you find out what you’ve got (which is often difficult to get out of the doctors themselves), you also sometimes find out what they actually think of you in their letters to each other.  I once read one which started ‘Thank you for referring this extremely pleasant lady to me.’ Really?  Of course if you’re a cantankous old moaner then you might not like what you read.  But then you could always write a few complaint letters.  That would use up a bit of time.
  4. Work out who is the most irritating patient on the ward. Points for snoring, whinging, not using their headphones for the TV, telling you over and over again about the intricacies of their illness, being unfortunate enough to be hooked up to a constantly beeping machine ( not their fault but hey), taking an hour in the shower,  having more pillows than you, and generally just staring at you across the ward alot.  Playing the game won’t make them less irritating ..but at least in conducting a scientific study, you can tell your visitors emphatically ‘The most irritating person on here is that woman over there.’
  5. Finally if all those fail, there’s one more thing to try to avoid boredom in hospital. Next time the nurse comes round, try playing dead.  That should liven things up.

The Manchester Health service

Of course she’s been posturing under the wrong name for years.  The NHS.  National Health Service. With her separate clinical commissioning groups, her postcode lotteries,  her different ways of doing simple tasks between one hospital and another.  I always thought she should be called the ANHS. The Almost  National Health service.

And now it appears she may need another name again.   Or part of her does.    The MHS.  The Manchester Health Service.  A bigger split, more formal, making the care you receive from the NHS dependent even more on where you live,  rather than what you need.

There are lots of laudable reasons for the plan.  I’m in no doubt that better links between social services  and the NHS are long overdue.   There is a common conversation on wards between staff,  elderly patients and their families.  As you try not to listen through thin green curtains, you overhear again and again the problems of finding somewhere for Grandma to live because she’s now too frail to go home.

Better cohesion between the two services could really help in managing long term conditions like dementia and heart disease too.  No wonder George Osborne finds this ‘really exciting’.    Local people having more control over the decisions that affect their lives.  Or would that be local politicians George?

I’m uneasy.   Us patients know that we already have to endure problems in our health care because of  a lack of cohesion between different parts of the NHS.    We know if we go to one hospital rather than another, we’ll get a different level of care, different systems, different food.  Our doctors rely on snailmail to pass on vital information about us from one part of the NHS to another.  Experienced  nurses on our wards tell us they can’t give us our pills because they haven’t been through the training for that particular hospital trust.   We’re promised joined up services in Manchester.  Shouldn’t we be working on joining up the NHS in the UK first?

And there’s another problem.  What about those of us – and we are many – who have to travel to the Big Smoke because our treatment and care is too complicated for the hospitals and doctors where we live?   Will we be as welcome?  As budgets inevitably tighten, will our right to expensive treatments be discussed in the light of whether we pay council tax in Manchester?   Will the ‘local people’  making  these decisions be happy to open their doors to costly patients across the country when  their electorate are baying for them to improve local care?  I can see the election slogan now.  Manchester Services for Manchester people.

I have family in Wales.  A few years ago they were all trumpeting their free prescriptions.  Now they wonder whether it was worth it.  They complain of long waits for hospital appointments and inefficient care.  They try to arrange treatment across the border.  They’re not so sure local power to local people as far as the NHS is concerned is working for them.

I am not against a Northern Powerhouse but this plan concerns me, not least because of the speed in which it is being introduced.  In just over a year, full devolution of health and care services in Manchester will be in place, and yet all parties seem to agree the details of how this will work are still very sketchy.

And to cap it all, just a year later, Manchester people will be voting for a new mayor.    A chance for some bright politician to make radical plans for that £6billion health and social care budget.  Perhaps even to come up with a smart new name for the service.   I like the old one.  The National Health Service.

Living on a NHS ward

Everyone should be made to live for a week on a NHS ward.  Especially our politicians.  No, not to see how over stretched the staff are. Not to experience how bad the food can be. Not even to see how long you sometimes wait for treatment. But for the simple reason that when you live on a NHS ward you’re forced into close contact with ‘people who are not like you.’

Let’s be honest, we all have our tribes and we all have our prejudices about people who aren’t like us.  For most of us – I hope – it’s not based on colour of skin or sexuality anymore but the prejudices are still there. Perhaps nowadays it’s more about what someone is wearing, the newspaper they read, the television show they watch, the way they vote, the place they live, the school they went to.

And for most of our lives we succeed in spending time with people like us.  Our families often, though not always, have a similar outlook.  We pick our friends.  Our work colleagues, if not from the same tribe, are often from a similar one.  We live our lives most of the time within a common consensus about what is ‘right’.

And then we get ill and we’re forced to live with total strangers, thrown together because of similarities in the ways our bodies have let us down, rather than similarities in education or income.  We eat together, sleep together.   We’re together 24 hours a day, sometimes for weeks on end.

We don’t just share magazines and bathrooms; we share nurses, doctors, healthcare assistants.  We share knowledge about which ones to ask for help, and which ones seem like they couldn’t care less.  We know intimate secrets about each other’s bodies; we hear hushed conversations through thin green curtains, telling us things about our bed neighbours we’d rather not hear.  We notice who has regular, loving visitors ..and who doesn’t.  Even when one of us retreats behind the curtains, desperate for privacy,  we can see the red eyes when they return to view.

I’ll be honest.  I often arrive in a ward in a foul mood.  Depressed and frustrated at being back in hospital, worried about my illness, my husband and kids, I retreat into non-communication with my fellow patients.  No eye contact, monosyllabic answers to those who pry too much, I pull the curtains and lie alone, trying to avoid the reality of what is happening to me.

But after a couple of hours sulking,  I have no choice.  I’m forced to engage with those around me whoever they are, whatever life they lead, however old they are, whatever their faith, whichever newspaper they choose … and life on the ward is generally better when I do.

And it does broaden your view of the world.   We all know in our heads that there are people who are poorer than us or posher than us,  less or better educated, or who vote for parties we might consider unthinkable …but until we actually meet those people, it’s the differences that stand out rather than the similarities.  Living on a ward can make you more tolerant, less sure of exactly what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, more appreciative of the difficulties other tribes face.

And that’s got to be a good thing. Hasn’t it?

A visit from St NHS

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the ward,

Not a patient was sleeping, just one who snored,

The charts were hung on the bed end with care,

In the hope a consultant soon would be there,

We shivered cold under thin blankets in bed

While visions of warm toast danced in our head

One overworked nurse and a health care assistant

Ran ragged while machines beeped with relentless persistence,

I lay in bed wondering if sleep would arrive

The night stretched ahead, so hard staying alive

When out in the car park there arose such a clatter

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter

Away to the window I flew in my gown

Gaping cotton, bare back, with loose ties hanging down

When what to my wondering eyes did appear

But a tinsel-clad ambulance with lights blue and clear

With a little old doctor so lively and quick

I thought for a moment he must be St Nick,

But with a voice full of cheer he did loudly proclaim

‘Santa’s old hat.    St NHS is my name!’

Then with garb crisp and bright as the new fallen snow

His troops from the sky he did call to come low

‘Now Doctors! Now nurses! Now healthcare assistants!

Come cleaners. Come caterers.  Give your commitment!

To the ward! To the ward! Give it your all!’

And with that,  they all flew right through the wall.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard by the stair

A clumping of boots; St NHS was there.

He was dressed all in white from his head to his foot

With a stethoscope hanging down from his hood

A bundle of pills he had flung on his back

A thousand new treatments peeping out of his sack

His eyes – how they twinkled! His dimples how merry

A hundred clear drip tubes tied round his belly

A glistening syringe he held tight in his hand

To pump us with painkillers if we’d so demand

He spoke not a word but went straight to the job

His troops filled the ward, armed with pillow and swab

They tended, they cleaned, the doctors knew all our names

The toast on the trolley was warm when it came

Three pillows appeared at each of our heads

A duvet was laid with care on the bed

In a flash waiting lists were a thing of the past

And the dirt in the washroom was cleaned up at last

Even the ward nutters stopped shouting their ills

And for once everyone in there got the right pills

We all had our own nurse, firm but kind as can be

The TVs were working, the car park was free.

And then with a nod, and a burst of hand gel

He was off with naught but a short farewell

His blue lights flashing and tinsel glistening

Patients asleep, just me still listening

And I heard him exclaim ‘ere he drove out of sight

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night”



With a little help from Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863)