If you are sick of teaching, visit the local hospital

8th May 2009 at 01:00

You can see, hear and learn a lot hanging around hospitals. You also have time to sit back and think and watch others at work.

Having spent much of the past four weeks supporting my very sick husband, I have been able to experience at first hand all that the National Health Service has to offer, and I have to say I am terribly impressed. I can't help but compare the NHS with the state school system.

I am so glad that I live in the UK, where there is a well-established free healthcare system. If we were in a part of the world where we had to pay for every test and every treatment, we would be even more anxious than we are now.

No matter what complaints we make about the NHS, there is no doubt that when you are really ill they swing into action.

I never thought I would say this, but I am very happy that the Government has set very stringent targets - at least for patients who are suspected of having cancer.

These tough targets mean that patients referred to a cancer consultant are seen within a two-week time slot. Therefore, within two weeks of referral, my husband was given every possible test in order to make a correct diagnosis.

He was seen quickly and efficiently and we met with the best consultants. Then he was admitted to hospital, where treatment started.

Similarly, targets around cleanliness have been extremely effective. Every nook and cranny is cleaned daily and messages about washing hands and using alcohol gel are all over the hospital - and what's more, people are using them. I know all of this has not happened overnight, but it is certainly effective.

It is hard to establish who exactly is in charge in the ward. All staff except the doctors wear a uniform and different colours identify their role and place in the hierarchy.

The problem is that you could do with a guide book to help you work out who is who. All the hospital staff work very long hours - usually 12-hour shifts, and the wards are often understaffed, so they have to work even harder.

They have little time to spend with patients, especially on the softer aspects of nursing such as having a chat or coaxing them to eat.

While many have a wonderful manner and manage to be cheerful and smile frequently (essential skills for them, I think) there are a few who appear to have no social graces whatsoever and do everything grudgingly.

This attitude seems to have nothing to do with the training they receive as they can all administer the drugs and change dressings professionally.

But there is something about the personality and attitude of the best people doing the job - very much like teachers.

While most teachers can be trained to become technically competent, certain individuals have something that makes young people want to be in their class. The emotional intelligence aspect of our individual personalities needs to be considered when appointing staff, especially those who will work with vulnerable people. Sadly, the pay scales don't always encourage the most suitable candidates.

Why is it that the doctors look as if they are just out of school and appear to getting younger - and why does it bother me more than seeing the latest batch of NQTs? Is it just that I am getting older?

However, the young doctors' knowledge and expertise is astounding, and I bet their former teachers and lectures are proud of them.

The science involved in tackling all the different cancers is phenomenal, and it's sad but true that people who died of certain cancers five years ago would probably have survived today because research and treatments have moved on so quickly.

Unfortunately - unlike school funding - most of this research is dependent on charity. I was pleased to be able to tell my husband that we have been paying a monthly subscription to a cancer research charity for many years and he was now about to get his money's worth.

The doctors go to great lengths to keep us informed about what is going on, and I have become a typical pestering middle-class relative, asking tricky questions about the treatment. It has just dawned on me that I have been behaving like the sort of parent I find most annoying - you know the sort, the ones who have been on Teachernet and think they know all about education and want to tell us all about it, and point out our failures. Or is that just Ofsted? Forgive my confusion - I am just a little exhausted.

But despite the setbacks at home and at school, things are going well and we remain positive and optimistic.

And the next time a teacher tells me how hard they work and how stressed they are, I will suggest they do a job share at a local hospital for a while ...

Kenny Frederick Headteacher, George Green's School, Tower Hamlets, east London.

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