Love Letter to the NHS by Emma Ireland

nhs_march_logoWhen I was born in the early ‘60s, I put my mother through a two day ordeal of labour, then was extracted via C-section; this was in the days when the scar of such a section was twice as long as it is today. So, it is little wonder that when leaving the hospital with my dad, my parents forgot to take me with them. Thank God for the NHS and all its efficiency, for an eagle-eyed nurse came running out of reception saying: ‘Haven’t you forgot something?’ Just over two years later, and my parents were playing cricket with friends in the stretch of scrubland outside our flat; when I was in need of something, I ran up to my mother who was in bat. The ball arrived at her stump the same time I did, she missed the ball and broke my nose. Thank God for the NHS. Aged sixteen, down to five stone in weight, everything had been tried, to understand why I was slowly dying – a nurse’s strike delayed final test results coming in, but eventually they discovered I had Addison’s Disease. Thank God for the NHS. And subsequently, I have frequented various hospitals as more diagnoses of auto-immune attacks have been found. Thank God for….yes, you get the picture.

image1Today’s poem by Emma Ireland, is what it says on the poetic tin, a ‘love letter to the NHS’; ‘to the/ doctors, the/ nurses, the porters, the cleaners, the old folk who/ volunteer at hospital junctions/ asking if you know where you need to be, to the woman who says/ hey/ i have something special for you.’ Many of us will have similar experiences to that described by Emma; an unwell partner, a pregnancy, an operation, an elderly relative in need of care, etc.. And it is all funded through taxation, and thus we have no worry of insurance (because of my ill-health I could not afford to live in America for example).

But as we all know, through the ideology of an ever-shrinking state, the NHS, like many social services, is under grave threat. A study by the King’s Fund showed that: ‘An overwhelming majority of the public think the health service has a funding problem and increasing numbers of people would be prepared to pay more in tax or National Insurance to boost NHS funding.’ But they shouldn’t have to. Access to health care, is a human right, and should not be a political tool to reduce governmental costs, which it has been for the past eight years. Nurses should not have to say: ‘sorry that it took a while to fetch the morphine/ sorry that he has been waiting so long, sorry that he’ll have to/ wait a while longer, because the specialist is tied up with/ somebody else at the moment, but can she/ fetch us anything in the meantime.’ And we, should not have to be thanking God for such a wonderful service.


Emma Ireland was born and brought up in Derby in the East Midlands. Despite escaping for a year in Jamaica and a decade in Italy, she now finds herself full circle. She has been writing in one form or another all her life but mostly laboured under the illusion that she disliked poetry until a few years ago when she first discovered Warsan Shire and Rupi Kaur and realised that all the rules she’d never understood anyway didn’t necessarily have to apply. Emma is a relatively new face on the spoken word scene but has performed several times in Derby and Nottingham over the past year. She writes mostly about politics and sadness and one of her poems is included in the runner-up for Best Anthology at the 2018 Saboteur Awards, ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’, a collection dedicated to raising funds for the Mind mental health charity.


love letter to the nhs

to the doctors,
the nurses, the porters,
the cleaners, the old folk who
volunteer at hospital junctions
asking if you know where you need to be,
to the woman who says
i have something special for you
to my husband who is on a restricted diet in
bed 4, handing him a plastic tub of liquidised banana
as though it were chocolate cake, and i take a
picture of it so i can get it put on a
keyring later for march 15th, which is not
valentine’s day to anyone except us
to the midwives
the one who told me it was
too soon for an epidural, and the one who –
three hours after – told me it was too late, but held my hand while i
pushed out every vile and nasty word i know; to the
medical student standing looking terrified
behind her, trying to make small talk
in between contractions
i am from round here
i don’t come here often; to the
surgeon who addresses you as though he’s
known you all your life and not thirty seconds, leaning across the
bed rails with no concept of personal space, although i guess if you’re about to
rearrange a person’s insides you get to waive the formalities, and i
think: this man will know what parts of me i’ve never even
seen myself
look like;
to the newspaper trolley guy
squeaking up and down the wards
who tells us: i knew you wouldn’t buy anything, for i
never met a man with a pretty girl at his bedside
who bought a magazine; to the
receptionist on the surgical assessment unit
answering telephones with one hand while trying to find
beds for the trollies piling up by her desk but who still eeks out the
time to tell me where the toilets are; to the
nurses who do all the things
most of us never could, and who do them with
kindness and humour, who clean up
shit and piss and vomit daily
and get food bank vouchers in return; to the
junior doctors
– the one who walked into the
sea and never came back, the one with
bags where his laughter lines should be, the one who’s seen
far too much too often to ever have
anywhere in her
job description – telling my husband she is
sorry that he is in pain
sorry that it took a while to fetch the morphine
sorry that he has been waiting so long, sorry that he’ll have to
wait a while longer, because the specialist is tied up with
somebody else at the moment, but can she
fetch us anything in the meantime?
and i want to tell her
to tell them, every single person who
shows up to work each day and even on the days they
don’t, on the days it is too
hard, too much
when it is stay home or break down, to
all of those who help keep us safe, keep us alive, i want to
don’t be sorry
that i am the one who is sorry
sorry that you have to make apologies to hurt and
angry people for things that are not your fault, sorry that the
vultures responsible for this mess are busy trying to turn against you
all of those for whom you give your lives, when you are
dog-tired, when you are
drained, when you are empty and when you are
filled with despair, i am sorry
that you are not and could never be
paid your worth, for your worth cannot be counted in
money alone, but i am sorry that they don’t even try to do that
i am sorry
that there are times your families get the worst of you
because you exhausted the best
on us
even when we don’t
deserve it, even when we don’t
appreciate it, even though we can
never know how much it
cost you, i am
but you are not alone
we do not all believe the lies peddled to us by
those who stand to gain from your suffering, there are
those of us who see and will not stop seeing, who know and will not stop
knowing, will not stop
nye bevan’s children
every one of us
but maybe harry keen said it best
that they might try to hold it under water till the
bubbles stop rising, but the bubbles will
stop rising
will never


  1. Unusual to get this much empathy on the true cost of the NHS by someone not woken at 2.30:3.30,4.30 at night and then working a day. or nursing far too many patients, It is possible to see why they are going to Australia, New Zealand, Canada though.

    Liked by 1 person

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