Care

I’d like to say something about the NHS.

Last Tuesday morning my partner and I went into the Royal Free Hospital to have a planned C-section. I realised afterwards that it was the first time I’ve stayed in a UK hospital since I was born in one, 37 years ago. And it was amazing.

Amazing not just because of the people who delivered our son with humour, care, understanding and love.

Amazing not just because those people were so hugely representative of the benefits of long-term immigration to the UK: a surgical team led by two brilliant women of colour; midwives and nurses from across the world.

Amazing not just because of the range of women – the eastern European woman waiting to be induced, the exhausted young black couple, the orthodox Jewish woman picking up kosher food from the trolley – who had come to this place to do this most fundamentally human thing.

It was amazing because we spent 35 hours in an organisation where the main currencies are need and care. For all its many flaws and restrictions, this is a place where you are prioritised not by who you are and what you have, but by what you need.

And where the principle output is care.

The care of the anaesthetists chatting to Ella to calm her as we went into the operation, the midwife bringing us tea and toast after. The help with breastfeeding, changing a first nappy. The older midwife who caught us at 3am when everything felt like it might fall apart.

These are things that dramatically change the first moments of life – and perhaps whole lives afterwards.

Of course (but why, of course?) everyone who cared for us was overworked, stretched and stressed.

There were women giving birth in our ward because the labour ward was full, students having to do things they weren’t yet qualified to do, a midwife who burnt her own hand and had to go to A&E, only to be back within an hour because she had ten women to look after on her own.

I don’t understand why anyone earning a decent wage couldn't spare a tiny bit more tax to make this better.

I don’t understand how anyone could think that profit-making might be a way to improve care-giving.

And perhaps most of all, I don’t understand how anyone who would ever make any of those midwives, doctors and nurses feel that they didn’t belong just because they or their parents weren’t born here.

On Wednesday evening we walked slowly out of the Royal Free with our son in a car seat. An old man passing gave us a pound to wish us luck.

But he – and we – are already lucky. We have a son who will grow up in the privilege of his race, sex and class, and (hopefully) be looked after all his life by the NHS. I want to bring him up to know and understand these things, and to feel responsible for them in the future –to fight for change, to make sacrifices for others and – most importantly - to care.