Why I swapped the NHS for Waitressing

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On paper, this shouldn’t work; I have a BSc (hons) degree, 12 years of HCP experience and here I am: heading for 37, as a happy Waitress.

If I could have written a joke guide to ruining the NHS 15 years ago, it would have read something like this:

  1. Increase paperwork by 300%. Continue to do this every year.
  2. Privatise as many services as possible and pay for them upfront, for the whole financial year – regardless of whether they are used to full capacity.
  3. Change the name of every NHS Trust at least once a year, at a minimum cost of £1m in paperwork amends.
  4. Spend £6 billion on a computer system and then decide not to use it. It is important that any computer system installed is not compatible across hospital, GP and community settings.
  5. As people get more experienced, start to move them down a band, so that they earn less and feel less valued.
  6. As staff are moved down a band, increase their responsibility and workload.
  7. Cut all services to people with long-term neurological conditions down to 6 sessions of 30 minutes per life-span. Ensure at least 20 minutes of these sessions are spent doing paperwork.
  8. Replace as many qualified staff as you can with less-qualified equivalents.
  9. Instil heavy-handed micromanagement by people who are emotionally-void.
  10. Do not let Consultants speak to Cleaners; they shouldn’t even look them in the eye.
  11. Increase caseloads until staff members show visible signs of stress – sweating, shaking, crying and rocking in a ball behind a crash trolley are all very positive signs of succeeding here.
  12. Send out questionnaires to frontline staff about working conditions but do not under any circumstances read or implement any of the suggestions. Proceed to allow major decisions on treatment provision to be made by newly-qualified Accountants.

Sadly, the above is pretty close to my perception of what has actually happened to the NHS.

I’ve worked in pockets of gold-standard service, where there were regular treatment sessions, time, access to money for equipment, and wards that would go out and party together – in-house Cleaners on a level with the Orthopaedic Consultants – and everyone knowing each other by name, and dancing together on pub tables. There was privatisation going on but the NHS felt like a very different place.

The irony is that I feel I do more to brighten people’s day as a Waitress than I did at the end of my career as a Healthcare Professional. Instead of talking to the general public about their medical history, (when they’ve already given it to six other people) and dishing out exercises they often found boring (and, by their own admission, didn’t intend to do), I get to bring them great food and chat about anything from local sight-seeing to football. Aligned with this, people make better ‘patients’ in a relaxed setting – especially if alcohol is involved. I am plied with detailed accounts of bowels, sleep habits and operation scars – without even asking. I rarely got this information so readily when I wore a tunic and a name-tag.

Reasons I love my job:

  • Job descriptions: there are none. I praise this fact. Got an idea or skill you think will help the business? Great, let’s use your skills and try it. Likewise, if someone’s delivered a mis-aimed pooh onto the outside of the toilet, you clear it up. It’s an ego-less set-up.
  • The workforce are equal: if there is a gnawed piece of sausage on the floor then the boss isn’t too proud to pick it up. He helps to lay tables also.
  • The job is relatively easy: it’s physically hard work and the pace and logistics of a busy weekend is full on, but it’s not often overwhelming. And there’s vast opportunity to be mindful – notably mopping floors to music, eating lovely food and making Tiramisu look pretty with swirly chocolate sauce patterns.
  • The act of waiting is less of a problem: your table is delayed in the restaurant; you get to drink wine in the bar. Your appointment is delayed at the healthcare centre; you get to read magazines, (aimed at middle-aged women), in a waiting room crammed like a Next sale. One of these outcomes creates happy people and the other creates severely depressed people (especially with articles such as ‘Why I left my wife of 40 years to marry a horse’).
  • Questions are more fun: ‘On a scale of 1-10, how depressed are you?’ (Ironic, given the pre-appointment reading material on offer…) verses ‘Would you like to come to our Turkish music night – there’ll be belly dancers and a lock-in?’ Again, one triggers loss of will to live, the other brings joy.
  • Presents: a donation of a couple of pounds as a tip is taken gratefully, and you get to thank the customer nicely. NHS gifts were forbidden – which led to rejections of thoughtful tokens of appreciation, which made you feel a guilt parallel to dumping someone who loves you dearly… on their birthday… knowing they were going to propose to you… having sold a family heirloom to buy a ring for you. Perhaps you are leaving them for their own brother… and so on.

The idea that I get paid to sweep, mop and polish cutlery, to pumping garage, house, old school indie, number one hits of the sixties etc, feels like a gift. And best of all, I get to hang out with my little lad – working around his school hours and his time with his dad. This, to me, is priceless.

I may be on a minimum wage, but I enjoy my job and the wealth outside my pocket makes me feel like a millionaire.

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8 thoughts on “Why I swapped the NHS for Waitressing

  1. Great! It is a damning indictment of the poor state of the management of the NHS. Their loss is your customers’ gain.

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  2. Hi Millionaire Waitress. I’ve just read all your articles and loved them – very amusing! I especially like the NHS one – so true and made me laugh!

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    1. Hi Louise, thank you for reading and leaving a comment – glad you enjoyed! I’m only a few weeks into this blog and being on social media so I’m really grateful for the support. A way to go before a book deal is offered…!

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  3. I left the NHS.
    I could no longer protect my patients from the system.
    I am the happiest I have ever been (I’m a foster carer). Especially when I see the direction things are heading.
    I loved the job. It broke my heart to walk away. I had no choice.

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  4. I left the NHS too after 36 years. True there were problems at times throughout that time but nothing like I experencied over the past few years. You said it all really. Here in York they have closed the Mental Health hospital. Patients have gone far out of area. Recently recovery services have been closed. The morale is at it’s all time low. I miss the nursing part, I miss the patients and I miss the teams. But hell, am I glad I am out of there.

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  5. Pretty accurate account of the failing NHS, the changes in the 15yrs iv worked through are at a all time low… It’s about balancing books, privatising as many services as possible, getting patients out far to soon just to open up beds and sadly the patient is at the end of a long line instead of central to everything… 💛 xx

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