Bottomley’s dole queue

ANGELA and Dawn completed their three and a half years’ training as nurses at London’s Royal Free Hospital in December 1994. They had assumed that a job would be available for them. They were wrong. Neither were successful in interviews at the hospital nor in any of the dozen or so applications since then.

Now they try to scrape by cleaning car windscreens at a busy South London crossroads. But they are also making a point. To highlight not only their own plight but the state of the NHS itself, they work in their nurses’ uniforms in front of a placard which reads, “Unemployed nurses - sack Bottomley”.

“The government is the sole reason for the decline in the health service,” Dawn told me. “The cost of one fighter bomber would keep a ward open.”

Dawn says she was not at all political before she entered nursing. “It really opened my eyes. When somebody left, they would either not replace her at all or use a lower grade to cover.” It is also cheaper to employ student nurses, rather than fully qualified staff nurses like Angela and Dawn.

“The way that finance is allocated means that the whole system is being run into the ground,” Angela says. “The Royal Free’s lobby is nicely decorated, but there is next to nothing for the healthcare side.”

“They have opened a private clinic on the first floor,” Dawn adds, “and the contrast is unbelievable. It is done up in plush pink and silver.

“The work we are doing now is horrible - it’s dirty and filthy. The money is very poor, but what is happening to the NHS is so important, we must highlight it.”

They are pleased at the support people are giving them. As we talked, motorists waved, smiled or sounded their horns. “The only ones who are anti are the obvious Tories in their expensive cars. I believe in socialism, and Labour might just be different,” Dawn told me.

It is a vain hope. Nevertheless, the women were very interested to hear about the Unemployed Workers Charter’s new initiative to collect 100,000 signatures on its fighting petition for a health service workers need, and agreed to take some forms themselves.

“I hope Dawn and Angela will join our campaign,” said Mark Fischer, the UWC’s national organiser. “We need to unite behind a programme of coordinated action.”

Peter Manson