“Nothing’s perfect” was the Prime Minister’s response to Andrew Marr’s question about people waiting in ambulances for four or five hours outside Accident and Emergency Departments.

First published in January 2018.

Perhaps she thinks that highlighting the pain and grief arising from the Conservatives’ stewardship of the NHS is being a bit picky.

Or maybe she just doesn’t care.

She followed that with “I can’t comment on individual cases” when Marr told her that, following his stroke, he would have died in similar circumstances.

Whilst the lack of a human touch she conveys is not untypical of her, neither is it normal or natural. In fact, it’s tending towards the psychopathic.

I would want a Prime Minister to communicate an awareness of their responsibility, no matter how removed, for the experiences of the people they’re in place to serve .

And a degree of empathy.

As it is, her government’s accountability to what might best be described as “global capital” seems to have driven the humanity out.

Ambulances queuing outside A&E? Trolleys lined up in corridors? All elective surgery postponed for a month? That’s OK, share prices are up.

Every queued ambulance, every lined-up trolley, every postponed operation is a source of distress or discomfort or prolonged pain for at least one of us — never mind our carers, the over-stretched staff, and the people further behind in the queues, or those in urgent need of a bed or an ambulance and its crew.

That the Conservatives’ poll ratings aren’t yet plummeting, in spite of nearly 8 years of austerity and the demolition of public services, suggests that we inhabit a culture in which the value of money trumps the value of care.

What we need is a radical cultural advance  —  a shift in the collective mind-set, so that “care” in all its forms is what’s valued and supported, rather than the creation and accumulation of wealth.

As Nancy Fraser argues in her article Crisis of Care?, what this would entail is the “reinventing of the production/reproduction distinction and re-imagining the gender order”.

My understanding of this is that “production” (essentially, time and energy spent on paid work) now dominates “social reproduction” (essentially, unpaid care and nurturing, predominantly undertaken by women) to a degree that is unhealthy and unsustainable (for people, and for the “system”) — and that there is a need for re-balancing or re-thinking.

That’s going a lot further than tinkering with “work/life balance”.

It would involve addressing fundamental questions around the purpose of work and the nature of community.

It would also lead us to rethink the outcomes we want to achieve, how we promote and maintain good mental and emotional health, how we support parents of young children, how we value the provision of care in all its forms, how we facilitate healthy environments and lifestyles. And, of course, how we re-allocate resources to these ends.

The crisis around Accident and Emergency Departments  —  as important as it is  —  is just the most visible and news-worthy care crisis at the moment. Alongside it, and less immediately apparent, are shortfalls in child and adult mental health services, in access to safe and dignified social care for frail older people, and in support for “informal” carers, to name but a few.

A collective investment of resource and expertise in all aspects of care, along with a re-appraisal of how we spend our time and energy, and what we value, would  —  in the language of the currently dominant culture  —  pay dividends.🔷

[This piece was originally published on the PMP Blog! and re-published in PMP Magazine on 8 January 2018, with the author’s consent. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

(Cover: Dreamstime / Photoschmidt.)