“Labours Of Love”

When I was in hospital last year I marvelled at the kindness of the nursing and medical care I saw and received. It was a privilege to watch. When I was due to leave the nurse told Alison over the phone that they were sorry to see me go – I had been so easy to nurse. That is a compliment I treasure. It is they who were good in nursing and care.

‘Labours of Love’ by Madeleine Bunting is a beautiful book about all aspects of care – hospital, community, homes and nursing homes, and reflects a similar impression to mine: how good, generous, loving and sensitive are our people in the caring professions. Madeleine was given access over a range of the caring: do read her book if you can. Here are some of her words:

“In March 2020 we faced a crisis of care in which our daily lives and the world economy came to a juddering, disorientating halt. Covid-19 has starkly exposed the chronic underinvestment and undervaluing of care . . . . As the pandemic progresses and hopefully passes, Covid-19 will unleash a huge questioning of the politics and governing systems which fail to foresee this disaster. This could lead to anger, but equally, could trigger a massive cultural shift in which we come to recognise the foundation of care on which all human wellbeing rests . . . . . For the first time ever in human history no-one is immune, every human being is in this together . . .

“Suddenly we realised that what is essential is care, and our greatest nightmares are its absence. Will there be nurses and doctors? Will there be beds and equipment? For those at home the questions are no less urgent. Who is on hand to bring us food? Who can fetch medications . . . Covid-19 has revealed a humbling truth: that our measure of status and value are flimsy, and that it is the low-paid labour of cleaners, supermarket assistants, and social care workers that is essential. They will be the ones keeping us fed and safe, thus saving lives . . .

“A wide-ranging global debate will follow this pandemic for years to come . . . Terrifying though these days are, we are witnessing a dramatic global effort to save lives. That is inspiring . . .

“We need a better understanding of this small word “care”, of the motivation to provide it and of the skills and knowledge required . . . . The care of the elderly and long-term sick enlists one in eight of the UK adult population (6.5 million) and their numbers are expected to grow by 40% in the next twenty years . . . . Care has many elements: it may require expert knowledge, it may be routine and repetitive (like) the low paid health care assistant who turns up on the ward for a twelve-hour shift of feeding, washing and changing beds . . . .

I criss-crossed the country to meet people caring for others. I sat in meetings and followed people around; I listened and watched . . . . So much care relates to physical presence and touch: bathing, feeding, cleaning, tidying, holding a hand, observation, to name a few . . . I learnt that care can never be standardised – it is full of the unpredictable, the spontaneous and the intensely personal . . . .

“As I visited homes, hospitals, GP’s surgeries, care agencies, care homes and hospices, common themes emerged from snatched conversations between appointments or over a hurried sandwich in staff rooms and cluttered offices. The need for care is increasing: between 2001 and 2015 the number of people over 85 increased by 38%, and it will double between 2016 and 2041 . . . . The number of over 85’s requiring 24 hour care will double by 2035 . . .

“A striking characteristic of this country’s care economy has been its dependence on migrant labour (from Ireland and the Caribbean, from the EU, Poland and the Philippines). This is evident particularly in London . . . . There is a global shortage of health workers and other countries offer better pay and working conditions”

We pray for greater awareness,

Fr John

(24th January 2021)

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