Dying bit by bit

HANDLE WITH CARE: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF TWELVE NURSES Liane Jones Macmillan £14.99

This book chronicles the lives of 12 nurses working in a London hospital, combining inter-views, documentary evidence and analysis. What a good idea, how interesting; but surely not fascinating reading. Worthy, yes, but a bit of a bore, no?

No. Handle With Care is a beautifully crafted book and extremely readable. It should certainly be read by anyone thinking of going into nursing. Liane Jones has succeeded in the most difficult of tasks. Mixing interviews with analysis is difficult, and this is the kind of book, with its many variations of time, place and theme, that might have ended up all over the place. However, Jones has woven it all together with such skill that the result is immensely satisfying and illuminating.

The hospital where Liane Jones's nurses worked is pseudonymously referred to throughout the book as "St Alphege's", but is surely the doomed St Bartholomew's.However, the cutbacks, the shortage of resources and the effect of both on staff and patient morale, the determination not to drown in flagging spirits but to deal with the work in hand today, the resilience and the peculiarly British sang-froid which Jones captures reflect the story of the Health Service everywhere.

There are 630,000 qualified nurses in the UK today, and 400,000 of them work in the NHS. Those who do are paid scandalously low wages. After three years' training a qualified nurse will earn between £150 and £250 a week. Student nurses earn far, far less, and usually top up their wages with agency work, which they cram in between training and study. Not only is it not fair that they should have to work so hard, but often, as in the case of the exhausted nurse who removed a drip from the wrong patient, it's not safe.

The job satisfaction is high, the work varied and the responsibilities heavy. Nurses learn on the job, which most find nerve-wracking, but at least it's a challenge and usually brings out the best in people. Nevertheless, Liane Jones heard many tales of woe. Not enough money for resources, not enough time to provide the kind of care they wanted to give. Inefficiency was not rife, but where it did occur, it was almost always the result of communication problems between staff on different rungs of the professional ladder.

In order to present fully-rounded pictures of the 12 nurses, Jones documents many of their patient cases; in paediatrics, geriatrics, acute wards, HIV wards, and terminal wards. She builds up a real sense of the job's complexity, of its different demands and attractions, from the high pressure of Accident and Emergency to the long, slow burn of "reminiscence" therapy with the mentally ill.

Its lessons are hard ("You never lie to a child because they'll never forget and they won't trust you again if you've lied to them.") Its rewards are enormous: a coma patient coming round after several days; a geriatric patient losing enough weight to walk again; a baby born healthily to happy parents. Even death can bring job satisfaction, of a sort. Says one nurse: "It's an enormous privilege to know that you're sharing the last hours of someone's life. I've got to make these good hours. I've got to make a difference because I'm the only one whose going to do it."

The disappointments are equal in measure. Cancer, Aids, old age and accidents all take their toll on the nurses, and each one remembers their first real shock. One nurse is depressed for days after the death of an elderly patient she had grown to love. Another describes the useless demise of an adolescent boy: "He was vomiting blood. His hair was coming out; his fingernails were dead. You just looked at him and little parts of him were dying."

The same nurse has "a terrible dream" after the hospital's closure has been announced by Virginia Bottomley: "I dreamed that it was a Monday and the hospital was due to close on the Wednesday and I was thinking, how can we move these people? They're not ready to go. Do we just close the doors and hand in our uniforms and let the patients get themselves out if they can . . .?"

Not much of a dream, poor woman. That's the NHS, you see. You just look at it, and little bits of it are dying.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'