Health chiefs mess up as NHS burns

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What planet is Amanda Pritchard on? Writing in Daily Telegraph, the head of NHS England outlined new guidance on menopause which could see up to 260,000 female staff working from home or taking on lighter duties. NHS staff who “listen to suffer” should not be expected to “grin and bear it”, Ms Pritchard said.

Please wait. Can you think of another group closely associated with the NHS who “sound suffering” and shouldn’t be expected to “grin and bear it”. A group that the chief executive of NHS England could reasonably be expected to focus on? Perhaps Mrs. Pritchard has momentarily forgotten 7.1 million patients on waiting lists. The almost unfathomable number of men, women and children unfortunately have no choice but to grin and bear it as they struggle to get an operation that will give them back a quality of life that Mrs Pritchard considers a fundamental right of her own workforce.

I was pissed when I saw the front page headline: “NHS staff in menopause can work from home.” Maybe I was so mad because almost daily now I hear horror stories from readers who can’t work, or sometimes even walk, because it’s impossible to access a public service that swallows £150 billion a year our dear Then belches and begs for more.

While Hannah emailed me on Wednesday to say her two-year-old son is struggling to breathe and swallow food, but is only being offered a telephone appointment in the near future with an ENT consultant (estimated waiting time for tonsillectomy: 2.5 years), the head of the NHS chatted enthusiastically about fans and cooler uniforms for workers experiencing hot flushes!

Honestly, what sublime ignorance of her own clients’ pain and distress could have caused Ms. Pritchard to suddenly highlight this one issue? And at a time when the NHS is in meltdown with a staffing crisis. In the registered nursing group alone, the June figures showed that there was one vacancy rate of 11.8 per cent, or 46,828. We know it maternity wards are often dangerously understaffed with dire consequences for babies and mothers. Now is hardly the time to tell a quarter of a million of your workers that they can work fewer hours or not come in at all.

Do not misunderstand me. I am a devoted champion of the heroic multi-tasking but vastly underrated creature, the middle-aged woman. My novel from 2017, How hard can it bewas the first work of fiction with a heroine who very explicitly deals with the difficulties of menopause while struggling to remain relevant in the workplace.

What my grandmother called “The Change” comes with an extensive menu of mid-life deaths. In addition to the infamous hot flashes, Mister Google lists irregular periods, heavier periods, flooding, irritability, trouble sleeping (with or without night sweats), crashing fatigue, and loss of libido as possibly having something to do with your — oh, joy! – dry sheath. You may also experience “disruptive memory loss”. Basically, you become like the fish who forgets what she knows every 10 seconds in that Pixar movie*. What’s it called? The name will come back to you. I promise it will come back, just not when you need it. It can take hours or even days. When you are in menopause, the tip of the tongue becomes a very crowded place.

I am happy if my novel helped break a taboo that used to make women feel embarrassed and alone. So why did Ms. Pritchard’s announcement upset me? Because it came in a week where there were such terrible headlines about one record rise in cancer deaths (due to so much of the NHS being shamefully closed to non-Covid patients during lockdown). Because we were told that long waiting times for ambulances and operations could last “years and years”. Because one in five NHS trusts have just received a “red” baby death rating.

Because the head of NHS England tried to deflect attention from all the devastating news for patients (who pay her £255,000 salary) by writing about good news for her menopausal staff. For most of us, it seems that toddlers with enlarged tonsils who have difficulty breathing should be a higher priority in the health care system than the hot flashes of the nurses. If Ms. Pritchard doesn’t realize that, she should resign.

* Finding Dory – I told you it would come back eventually.

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