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Memo to NHS managers – put yourselves on a data diet


HARDLY a day goes by without someone irresponsible ‘weaponising’ the NHS.

It’s often Remainiacs who are the worst. They constantly do this dreadful ‘white saviour’ schtick, where they pretend that they are the only people who care about our guest workers and that everyone else hates them. That’s a really narcissistic, thoughtless form of self-aggrandisement.

The Nicety Nasties don’t seem to consider the damage these divisive campaign messages do.

The most popular form of misery marketing is to exploit the emotions of nurses.

Nurses are leaving Britain in their hundreds, they constantly insist, because they are driven out by a mythical army of Brexiteers. These bogus bigots seem to defy logic, because it would imply that they don’t like being treated kindly in hospitals. That story doesn’t add up. I have yet to meet anyone who wants European nurses to leave the country. Why would they?

So the Remainiacs’ account of events doesn’t make sense. Still, what do I know?

Yesterday a doctor posted anecdotal evidence that nurses are being forced out of the NHS by Brexit-induced Europhobia. Why would she do this? Is she putting politics before patients?

Her story was approved and republished by a mass audience of Tweet-sheep without any of them seeking proof. One person who dared to question the veracity of these claims got short shrift from the sanctimonious mob.

I wonder about these scaremongering stories.

I spend a lot of time in hospitals these days as I’ve got what the NHS defines as chronic wounds, on top of which I’ve got bowel cancer. Which sounds grim, but I’m quite enjoying it in a way.

My mum was a nurse and my dad was a GP, one of my sisters was an ITU nurse and another an anaesthetist. In the early days I literally lived in a medical practice with patients waiting in the front room of our house. Their bodily fluid samples were kept in our fridge. (That’s one thing I didn’t miss when the practice got its own building). Weirdly, none of the Booth kids got ill – the exposure to germs must have built up our antibodies.

As a result I’m immune to hospital phobia. I feel more at home among the scrubs than I did in my (now broken) marriage! I love chatting to all the hospital people, whether they’re porters, patients or phlebotomists. You can learn so much from them. I know the perfect technique for catching a vein with a needle – it calls for the same decisiveness as spear fishing and you mustn’t let the vein wriggle out of the needle’s grasp.

The impression I get from nurses – and I’ve been in many hospitals across south-west, south-east and north-east london – is that it’s management that stresses them out.

Nurses, I’m told, value the human contact with the patient. They are at their most effective, they say, when talking to the vulnerable people in their care. Not when staring at a screen. However, management care nothing for the humanity of the job. All they care about is Big Data.

The massive cross-section of nurses I meet rarely get time for a toilet break, let alone lunch. They do 12-hour shifts without getting to eat or excrete! That’s got to hurt. They are amazingly tough.

On Thursday last week the starving nurse changing my bandage said she had 14 sets of patient notes to write up before starting a new clinic in half an hour. There was no time to squeeze in a sandwich.

The patient entries, by the sound of it, were all superfluous data entry crap. The sort of survey forms full of questions that nobody will ever review. As an IT hack, I’ve witnessed the rise in over-hyped Big Data. It’s hailed as a panacea but Fat Data is actually a disease.

When I was having my bowels de-functioned, my poo was all diverted into a bag. But I wasn’t allowed to dispense with this until it had been weighed and measured and the data entered into some stupid app. This meant that liquid poo had to be left around in an open topped cardboard container, awaiting collection. That’s not healthy. It also gave the nurses an extra unpleasant set of tasks. And the information wasn’t used by anyone anyway.

Nurses don’t have their finger on the pulse because they’ve been forced to tap garbage into a keyboard.

Yes, we all need information, but we need a balanced diet. Intelligence helps to restore the tissues of the brain, while context helps the brain make decisions and raw data is a sort of roughage for thought processes. I can’t think of a data metaphor for carbohydrates but I can tell you that the Big Data beloved by management (i.e. fat data) positively clogs the arteries of the NHS and saps energy.

My nursing friends say the extra workload demoralises them and stresses them out. It’s imposed on them by a sclerotic layer of middle management that builds up around the heart of the organisation.

This data obsession is depressing nurses to the point that they take off sick days with stress. They’ve got far too much work to do already, why create all these pointless distractions?

Maybe there’s an easy win for managers, ministers and administrators in the health service. Put yourselves on a data diet. Cut out the ‘fadministration’ – the initiatives that sound brilliant in a conference but are deadly on the wards.

NHS managers are overloading their vital organs (our nurses) and putting stress on them. Spare a thought for the nurses. You’ve got time to tweet, but they don’t get a chance to eat.

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Nick Booth
Nick Booth
Nick Booth is a freelance writer.

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