A Bitter Pill to Swallow

Theresa May has announced that, after more than a decade, austerity has supposedly come to an end. But to what extent have mental health services been damaged in that time?

By Alex Rossell: @AlexRossell8 | Illustration by Matthew G (twitter)

Over the past eight years, Britain has been under the rule of a Conservative government. In that time we’ve seen major cuts to the public sector, including teaching, police, and, in particular, the NHS. While we may be able to see the effects of budget cuts on the surface, many of us do not know what it is really like working for a service being punished by austerity.

Of all of the institutions to suffer from government cuts, the NHS was amongst the worst hit. A 56 year-old community mental health nurse, who asked to remain anonymous, revealed the true extent. “I’m not greedy with how much wages they give me,” the nurse, who has worked in the service for his entire life, said. Despite feeling personally valued, he revealed that certain departments are considered less important when it comes to designating funds, “elderly mental health is called the ‘cinderella service’ sometimes, as it is underfunded and unappreciated compared to other parts of the NHS.”

However, despite feeling somewhat valued by the government, he feels like Tory austerity has denied him certain opportunities as a nurse, “I was declined a secondment once because of recruitment numbers, they couldn’t spare me because there weren’t enough nurses”. However, despite being on the receiving end of austerity, he still accepts cutting back is “probably necessary, as we’ve lived beyond our means as a society”, although he believes that it’s “not a level playing field”, and that is what “undermines the ethos”.

“They couldn’t spare me because there weren’t enough nurses…”

Despite the government’s damage to the NHS though, he still “absolutely” wants the NHS to remain nationalised, claiming that it is a “credit to us”. He also shared that he had a “serious operation which saved my life”, and had he not received that operation from a national health service, “What I needed might have bankrupted me. So absolutely, we shouldn’t take it for granted.”

Austerity affects not only him, but the collective morale of his colleagues too, as “cuts to the NHS and our trust keep biting deeper and deeper”, and they’re having to find “more and more creative ways to find money”. On the topic of being monitored the nurse admitted that there is a “very cynical way of doing it”, which involves hours being watched, and he believes the very introduction of it “presupposes that we’re not working hard, it’s like having a spy in the cab,” leaving him in “no doubt” that this system is financially driven by cuts to the NHS.

If the cost of this damage proved to be too much, and the NHS was to be privatised, he is “sure” it would affect his job, as privatisation is “about making money: it’s a business”. Comparing it to the privatisation of the Post Office, he said “The argument was that it was going to be efficient, but now if it’s not efficient enough they’re being closed in rural districts.” Privatisation is “not about community, people or service,” he says, “the bottom line is making money.”


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