Beds and staffing. Don't go! I know we've been here before. Wait...come back...
Don't you just hate the sound of your own voice sometimes when you've been banging away about something for so many years? You start to question yourself. "Maybe I am being too repetitive." You've ended up being that person in the street holding up a placard for a golf sale or cheap pizza that everyone ignores, but has stopped feeling sorry for.
There's also something of the boy who cried wolf scenario. But instead of getting fed up with being tricked and finding no wolf, the villagers have got fed up with being told the truth. Tell us something we want to hear, they say. Give us some good news. We've had enough of the wolf.
Unions often have to be the placard holder or the wolf spotter, when no one else wants the job. The meta narrative for us is often one of constant warnings. Sadly, even when we are celebratory it is often in the face of adversity. We take facepainting and balloons to a march, not to a party.
And what if that message is for people who don't want to listen? We become Edith singing in the cafe in 'Allo 'Allo! ignorant to the fact the patrons have put cheese in their ears.
As if being willfully ignored isn't galling enough, what must it feel like when those very people who you've been trying to influence decide - after years of avoidance - to start giving out the same message? Hey, I saw the wolf first!
I'll tell you what it feels like. Bloody frustrating. And far too little, far too late.
So recently we've had our soon to depart Chief Executive bemoan the lack of mental health beds in the Trust. In an interview for the Argus in October (http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/10754923.Suicidal_patients_turned_away_in_Sussex_as_mental_health_service_reaches_crisis_point/?ref=mr) Lisa Rodrigues used terms such as "facing a real crisis" and "unacceptable". She even criticised the governement, whom in her view, in terms of investment, does "not consider mental health services to be as important as physical health services".
Well she is totally right. Treating people in private clinics miles away from their families because of a lack of local NHS inpatient beds is unaccpetable.
But far too little, far too late.
Where was this message when she wes not leaving the Trust? It's easy to be brave when the fight is over. Where were the warnings at the beginning of the economic down turn? I hate to say we told you so, but UNISON always expressed concerns about bed closures and the impact on the our service users and communities. No, instead the organisation would have talked about challenges, about how better it was to treat people out of hospital, about how dynamic community services would take up the slack.
Trouble is, sometimes people just need a bed in hospital. There's also nothing wrong with that. Except now we can't provide them unless we fill the coffers of the private sector with tax payer's money. How great would it have been for our Chief Executive to have said closing beds was unacceptable at the time the idea was first mooted?
Now we have the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt putting on his sheep's clothing (I told you there was a wolf) and demanding a safe staffing ratio for wards (http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/19/jeremy-hunt-hospitals-ward-staffing-levels), despite overseeing a governement intent on destroying the public sector either directly or indirectly through the dismantling of terms and conditions and the freezing of pay for the very people he now wants support from.
But far too little, far too late.
I hate to say we told you so, but UNISON both nationally and locally has been warning about staffing levels for years. Why were we not listened to? Maybe the cheese was too firmly wedged in the ears. However, it is not just the over ripe Camembert that stinks here. Heaven forbid, we could never be in the right. Heaven forbid that the very people you want to provide safe staffing levels were the very people feeding back saying we needed higher staff to patient ratios.
So, lets see if those in power can now join the dots.
Recently UNISON branch instigated a campaign against a proposed closure of East Sussex dementia beds run by the Trust (http://www.sussexexpress.co.uk/news/local/fears-for-future-of-dementia-ward-at-uckfield-hospital-1-5621595). In our campaign to the three Clinical Commissioning Groups (http://www.unison-sussexpartnership.org.uk/news/branch-expresses-concerns-over-proposed-dementia-wards-closure-east-sussex) we implore the decision makers not to close beds for the sake of saving money or from some plan that community services will take up the slack and provide the same level of care. We express concerns that vulnerable, usually elderly patients will end up being treated miles away from their loved ones when there are no beds locally. Sound familiar? Will we get a voice from the Trust?
And how about this.
We say yes to safe staffing levels, but we also say please look at the skills mix as well. It's no good just basing safety on numbers, it has to be the right people for the our service users. A news item in a different part of the health sector recently highlighted this. A unit which treated people with brain injuries was heavily criticised for the poor, inhumane level of care provided to a patient (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24958181). However, this was not about understaffing, it was about the fact that in a so called specialist unit, only one of the nursing staff had training in brain injuries.
So we call for wards to be safely staffed not only in terms of numbers but in terms of expertice. This means hire people permanently to aid continous therapeutic care. Don't fill our wards with agency staff.
So here we are back on the street corner holding a placard.
Wait! Come back!