Acts of kindness – celebrating our nurses and the NHS

In 2018, retired nurse Christie Watson wrote her memoir, The Language of Kindness. Christie has joined the Covid-19 emergency nursing register and is going back into the NHS. 

Christie Watson

The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson is an astounding account of a profession defined by acts of care, compassion and kindness. At this unprecendented time we need acts of kindness more than ever, towards our loved ones and to those we don’t know. In this piece written in 2018, Watson talks about how kindness can save the NHS; its message is as pertinent as ever.

Saving the NHS

There is no objectivity in good nursing care. To nurse is to love.

And for every case of suffering or tragedy, a nurse witnesses extreme love. The capacity we all have for hope and kindness and dignity in the face of adversity is the thing that binds us.

In hospitals, you see it everywhere.

But the medical model we have lived and died by is driven by money: drug companies and technology, insurance companies, and hospitals themselves, are making enormous gains from the prospect of cure. Yet this is a time of great societal change. Now, as we age, as so many of our health problems are caused by emotional and social factors, cure is often not possible. Increasingly, sick people are sick because they are suffering existentially, not from any disease or pathogen but from loneliness, self-harm, crippling anxiety.

So the things that matter are kindness and compassion. We need a conversation about the reality of contemporary healthcare. Nursing cannot cure. But nursing can save us.

Which is why it’s so disastrous that nursing application figures are so far down in the UK; that people are leaving the profession faster than they are joining. This is fast becoming the worst nursing shortage ever seen, and if there is no international nursing workforce strategy we will witness – very soon – crippled healthcare systems across the world.

I am immensely proud of our NHS. It offers access to the best doctors and nurses in the world. For all people. From birth to death. Because healthcare is a human right. But we are going to lose it unless we all speak out collectively. Funding is one part of the issue, but social care and public health are even bigger concerns. And we need nurses as policy makers, in government roles, working at a senior level on saving nursing.

There is much to be done in terms of training, fair pay and working conditions (nurse consultants, for example, are not paid anywhere near what medical consultants are), but to attract people into the profession in the first place, we also need to make an honest portrayal of the job available to the public.

So I am proud to have written a book that finally describes the realities of nursing, and to be developing a television series with Mammoth Screen to put a realistic drama about nurses on screen.

It’s a challenging profession, but nursing gives more than it takes. A nurse lives a full life – she has seen too much not to. And as Florence Nightingale reminds us: ‘Life is a splendid gift. There’s nothing small about it.’

Christie Watson

The Royal College of Nursing Foundation is a charity solely dedicated to supporting and strengthening every nursing team in this challenging time. Support thousands of nurses, midwives and healthcare support workers across the UK at the forefront of battling Covid-19 by donating here.

Sign up to hear more from VINTAGE

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more