Monday, 8 October 2012

A day's French leave with some great NHS people

Who’d be a healthcare manager today? 

I don’t mean the high-flying executive types who are busily laying about themselves sacking people to generate cost reductions. No, I’m talking about the middle and junior managers who either become the victims of such initiatives or are left trying to clear up the mess in their wake.

These people tend to be given a terrible press because whenever the pressure comes on for economies, the hue and cry goes up to axe the back-room staff. That’s because everyone knows that doctors and nurses really contribute to healthcare, while they believe that the managers are merely leeches on the system. Unfortunately, what they leave out of account, is that someone has to make sure that the arrival of a patient is recorded, that tests get carried out and the results logged somewhere, that the patient is discharged with the right medications, that people who need to know – such as a GP – are told.

The fewer people there are to do these jobs, the more the work will devolve onto clinical staff. This is a doubly sad: clinical staff should be concentrating on clinical work and they often cost a great deal more than those who would otherwise be undertaking these tasks.

All this makes me feel a great deal of sympathy with the administrative staff in the NHS, and that in turn makes me pleased that Danielle, my wife, has joined them.

To be honest, though, what makes me most pleased is that the team Danielle has joined is made up of such extremely likeable people. They’re so well worth knowing that I was delighted to be invited to join a group of sixteen or seventeen of them (all women) for a day trip Danielle organised to Calais. Delighted even though it meant getting up at 4:00 in the morning on a Saturday to be on the coach at 5:00.

It was a day packed with incident and enjoyment.

One of the high points came when the coach driver couldn’t restart the engine when we docked in Calais harbour. A tow truck came on board to help us off but, sadly, there was nowhere to fix a tow rope at the front and no manual on board to tell us where any parts might have been stored. Fortunately, while wandering disconsolately around the coach, we found a towing ball at the back. However, that meant turning the vehicle around.

By this time, cars were already driving on to the ferry for the trip back across to Dover so we had to move fast. We called for everyone to leave the coach. Reactions were fascinating: most people collected their possessions first and then went and stood on one side watching while three or four of us pushed the coach (OK, mini-coach really) round by main force. One of Danielle’s colleagues had been so slow collecting her belongings that she was still on board when we started the manoeuvre. She sat back down and bestowed a series regal waves on us, very like our dear old queen; you can imagine how that encouraged us.

But nothing did as much for our morale as the group of ten or twelve others forming our audience. They clapped and cheered as they watched us pushing. It was a spectacular vindication of the benefits of team work.

One of the people watching us had the presence of mind
to record the moment for posterity
Picture's a bit out of focus but, hey, is this really an event to focus on?
Another glorious memory was forged for us all when we wandered through the sunshine in a local market, admiring and occasionally buying the extraordinary variety of food and clothes on sale there. Eventually we gravitated to a bar off the market square where we ran into two men who were reinforcing themselves with strong drink, perhaps to recover from the experience of having sold us some excellent garlic and met Danielles redoutable skill in bargaining prices down to cut-throat level. Perhaps in vengeance, they spent the next twenty minutes negotiating a price at which they could purchase one of her colleagues in our party.

The target of their interest seemed to find the process highly amusing, despite the mildly embarrassed presence of her daughter, though she made it clear that not even the promise of a lifetime’s supply of garlic would persuade her to take the plunge.

An excellent and languid meal through the afternoon left us little time to get to the beach but we managed half an hour all the same, paddling in the shallow surf and then posing for a group photograph in which, as the only male present, I adopted an appropriately semi-detached stance. On seeing the picture later, however, what horrified me the most was the quintessentially Englishman-at-the-seaside image I had inadvertently adopted.

All in all, though, it was a brilliantly successful day out. It brought home to me two salutary lessons: that it’s as wonderful as ever to spend a day in France when one can, and that those much maligned NHS managers are perfect company on any occasion one can do so. Just as long as you don’t expect them to help with heavy manual work.

France will no doubt continue pretty much unchanged despite its difficulties. I only hope NHS staff will be able to do the same, rising above the offensive and ill-informed attacks so often heaped upon them these days.

A great NHS team (and some daughters).
Together with an Englishman abroad


Sheela Pattni said...

Thanks for writing up such a wonderful description of our day out in Calais. It really was a great day out - the company was excellent and I think we made the most of it. Sheela

Sheela Pattni said...

Blogging is new to me, so hope my comment gets posted.

Anonymous said...

One man and his harem!


David Beeson said...

Thanks Sheela - and the comment did indeed get posted, And you're right - it was a brilliant day out. To be repeated, I hope.

As for your suggestion, San, I'm shocked you could make it. As the great people who came on the trip would, I'm sure, also be...