The following piece was published in yesterdays Argus Newspaper, it relates to the suggestion that we dedicate one of our bank holidays to honour the work of people who work in the public sector: In recent days, the work and demands placed on our public sector, particularly the emergency and health services has been demonstrated as being vital to our society, yet this is often ignored by those capable of speaking out about such matters. Whether it is the politicians who are responsible for public services or the media, or even the organisations themselves, the tendency to remember the very high profile sacrifices, but forget the day to day commitments is clear.
As the ransomware attack challenged the NHS two weeks ago and systems were shut down to try to protect data and the system itself, it was not just the IT that was locked down. According to someone I spoke to, certain staff were placed in a lockdown situation on the Friday afternoon and were not allowed to leave their places of work until 6pm. This included at least one person whose usual working hours run until 3pm. Whilst not everyone works set hours, the fact is that staying a few minutes later than planned is usually not too much of an inconvenience but to be prevented from leaving work for 3 hours would feel very constricting to most of us. A few days later I mentioned this to someone on the staff at Sussex Police who reflected that when problems demand that the Police have to respond in an unplanned manner to evets, that it is not just the front line staff who have their leave cancelled and are called in at anti-social hours, the same is true of administrative staff too.
Then we had the appalling incidents in Manchester a week ago. Although quite rightly the spotlight has shone on the impact on the families and the survivors of the terrible night at the Arena, the fact is that Police Officers and Ambulance staff advanced into a place of carnage where a second bomb could easily have been planted. However behind these incredibly brave men and women were many others. NHS staff were asked not to come into work outside of their shift unless they were called in. What an amazing attitude to convey. The Blood Tranfusion service worked outside of their usual hours and venues to enable people to ensure that the blood banks were kept topped up and to have a sense of giving into a needy situation. Because of the wide geography from which the concert goers were drawn, the news from School headteachers across the UK about the pupils who were missing or had died also featured on our TV screens. These men and women were dealing with their own grief at the loss of a pupil and also managing grieving students throughout the School. Yet they were also willing to speak up on behalf of the community at the loss of the children murdered or badly injured at an event that would otherwise have been the highlight of their year.
Late last week I was involved in discussions with a local Council about their practical plans for the unexpected General Election. As I joked about the bad timing of the event due to some of the other issues the person was dealing with, it became clear that holding elections at times other than the usual early may date, places great stress on people who most of us might never speak to, but without whom events such as General Elections would not take place.
Finally as a result of the debates taking place since the recent Police Federation conference, the statistics that emerged included that last year 39% of Police Officers reported suffering from work-related stress and 29% missed at least one working day as a result of stress, depression or anxiety. The charity Mind reports that 5% of police, fire, ambulance and search and rescue workers had made an attempt to take their own life.
In my own mind as these various stories and conversations swirled around a theme emerges of how our nation lacks a meaningful focus on the hard work of the men and women of our public sector, of our emergency services, and our armed forces. The promises by Labour and UKIP to create new bank holidays to commemorate St Georges day which I have some support for and also in UKIPs case to celebrate what they like to call Independence Day are both elements of manifestos which are there simply to attract attention and generate publicity. I am certain we won’t add to the existing array of public holidays anytime soon, but what about focusing one of the days that is already a holiday on the enormous sacrifices that our public sector makes, particularly as some of the same people often get criticised for things in society that go wrong when the problem is rarely due to their decision making!