Over the years, my brothers and I have acquired the knack of standing five yards away from Mum if she bumps into someone she knows on the high street. Give them a little space - it can be a patient who stops in their tracks to explain: I’m doing much better! Or, She’s had the baby. Or, Dad pulled through. Mum passed away. My new doctor said... What do you think. You wander off to a polite distance, inspect a shop window display.
It was one of the peculiarities of our school days, that many of our peers knew Mum through her work as a practice nurse. Not that she’d ever let on.
Today our health correspondent Charlie Cooper reports that spending cuts have created a severe shortage of NHS nurses. The simultaneous axing of student nursing places means trusts are once again having to plunder foreign health services for staff.
Of course, belts have been tightened across the public sector - and although the NHS budget is protected, this still means cuts in the real world, because health inflation (the cost of treatments, for instance) runs so far ahead of general inflation in the economy.
I once asked Mum what qualities were important in a nurse, aside from clinical excellence (or at the very least clinical competence). She thought listening. Some people say you can’t buy empathy. You can. It costs £10.93 an hour for a registered nurse.
Yes, there are bad nurses, like there are bad journalists, teachers, marines, tradesmen, social workers. But the ones I know appear selfless, underpaid, dedicated, quietly proud of their vocation. They are relieving ever more of the clinical burden from doctors - and in doing so provide excellent value for money in this age of austerity. It’s time the Department of Health started insisting that some of these nursing vacancies are filled before something dangerous happens.