People's History of the NHS


Portrait of Sandra Gordon

I’ve been in the NHS for the past 33 years, mainly in the mental health sector. I started with older adults and moved over to adults and now I’m in the Clinical Commissioning Group. My role here at the moment is ‘Coordinator for Mental Health’, and what that entails is managing a caseload, looking at assessments, looking at one to one observations and generally just keeping my workflow.

My job is varied in the sense that no two days are the same. For example, I’ve been trying to sort out a case for the past two weeks and I still haven’t sorted it - although I’m getting there! I can be in and out of the office, in the meantime I’m getting phone calls, I’m getting emails, and everything has to be answered in a timely manner. I don’t actually plan my day. A lot of the nurses do but I can’t; I don’t know what’s going to come in.

My story begins when I was at home and I didn’t actually know what I wanted to do, so my mom says to me go and do nursing. I looked at her and I say ‘I ain’t doing nursing!’ Anyway, I didn’t have an idea (of what else to do) and - for my misdemeanors I got pregnant and I had my son and I thought ‘I can’t stay on the dole any longer, I’ve got to do something’ - and I mean this was back in 1985 - so I applied for a couple of jobs.

My first job was at Moxley Hospital which was in Wednesbury. Now, I lived in Birmingham, didn’t drive and trust me it was a really long haul on the bus! I remember my girlfriend and I stood in a huddle in a bus shelter just to keep warm to get to work, but we got there… It was an auxiliary post and I stayed there from 1985-1989.

In 1989 I went over to Edward Street, and I stayed at Edward Street as a nursing auxiliary ‘til 2002. It’s a long time, lots of changes… Then I decided to do my nurse training.

I did my nurse training from 2002-2005 and I continued to work with older adults because that was my remit, but I felt that I needed something more. So, in 2012 I did my degree in Health Studies and I left Edward Street and went over to Sandwell Crisis Home Treatment Team. I worked there for a number of years, and then I left Crisis Home Treatment Team and went to Birmingham CMHT - totally different role.

I was managing a caseload again, but it was different to the Crisis Home Treatment Team because we don’t have caseloads, it’s as and when the work comes in. It’s like a duty work really. When I went over to CMHT in Birmingham I was landed with a depot clinic. I hadn’t done depot’s for years- since I qualified - I didn’t know my head from my foot! Didn’t know where I was going, or how to do it. I had to ring my girlfriend and ask ‘how do I do depots?!’ - I had the basics but is was the changing of medication and the ordering and the storing and the commitment of the patients as well. But I managed to do it, and I did quite well!

I had patients ask for me to be their coordinator because they liked the way I managed my caseload and the way I put them first. I enjoyed it… and I quite miss it… the contact with the patients who are really unwell: those are the ones who make me feel good once I’ve brought them to a level where they’re able to function.

CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) - another totally different remit, indeed. It’s good in the sense that there’s a lot of autonomy. The team that I’m working in is just a fantastic team! It’s full of so many people with so much knowledge. You can go to anyone and ask them anything and somebody will support you and that’s what I love about our team: the support that we get and the comradery.

Looking over my years in the NHS, there have been a lot of changes. Changes that I feel … could have remained in a sense, because the patient care that I feel I had back in the 80’s - I don’t think it’s here in the 2000’s (present day).

Hands-on care for me is how I thrive. I have patients that have cursed and swore at me, and hugged me. I’ve had patients that have swung me around! And left me feeling, so tired (laughing) and I’ve patients that I’ve grown to really, really care about, and when they pass on it is heart wrenching -

I just love mental health, because it’s not something you can see. It’s innate and it’s for you (the nurse) to sort of work at it, and the more you work at it the better the reward, that’s how I find my role...

As I always say to the girls here (at the CCG): you can see a broken leg and you can mend a broken leg, but if somebody’s mind’s distorted and hurting, it’s so difficult…..

That’s why I like mental health because the closer you get with the individual; the more you get to know the individual, the more you can support their needs. You can’t always change it, but you can support it. That, for me, is how I define my role.

.... Going back to the Windrush era I had three aunts, two were auxiliaries, who moved on to nursing training, one was an SRN and the others were healthcare assistants. One of my aunts became a sister; she used to walk around really proud! She used to have her belt on, used to have her hat. She used to feel so proud, when she used to speak - I think, when I used to see her - she seemed to have this sort of status about her, like an aura? (a presence) Like she used to come in and she used to have her uniform and her puffed sleeves and I used to think: wow. I was always in awe of her. My other aunt was a children’s nurse. Sadly she passed away… in not very nice circumstances and that brought it home to me really: things can change at the drop of a hat. Like my other aunt, she was an SEN, she went and did her registered mental health nursing as well, and she also passed away through an accident…

When I look back, the things that they taught us: how they talked, how they moved, how they explained situations - to me as a child it seemed really difficult to comprehend - but they seemed so happy! Mom used to talk about them all living in the same house, you know, preparing meals together, going out to work… It’s a totally different feeling I think, that’s probably what’s missing with our generation: the fact that it’s all about that one person now? Before it was about everyone… that’s the changes that I’ve seen.

- (They used to) talk about coming over with their little suitcases and - aw - it was amazing but, that’s how it was.

My parents are from Jamaica, my aunts were from Jamaica. (They) came here in the late fifties, early sixties and they stayed. My two aunts returned back to Jamaica but they came back (to the UK) because they were ill, and they stayed for a little bit of treatment and then they passed away…

Because their (Windrush Generation) background (childhood) was so different they always had that emphasis on learning and, I mean at times you just couldn't be bothered! I mean, I couldn’t be bothered: I don’t know how I got a degree I’ll never know, ‘cause I never read a book!

My dad used to say ‘You have to read, Sandra, you have to learn!’ and I remember thinking -
He said ‘We didn’t have this opportunity, grab this opportunity ‘cause you won’t get it again!’
And when I got my degree, he was so proud! I think I was the first one (out of my siblings) I was the first one to get my degree - and he was poorly at the time. And he says to me he said ‘go and get your picture!’ I say ‘I don’t want to go!’ He said ‘Go and get it! You earnt it you’ve worked for it!’

I qualified as a registered nurse in April 2005, my dad passed away September 2005…
But I know he was proud.

All photographs copyright of Inès Elsa Dalal © 2019 Commissioned by Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust, 2018. No photographs or text may be referenced or published elsewhere, without prior permission.

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