Liz Bentley’s thoughts on her time working in the NHS while waiting for the Tesco Delivery Man

I worked for over 10 years as a psychotherapist in the NHS, managing a counselling service at a Bermondsey GP surgery. My job consisted of giving all patients who were referred for counselling as much support as they needed.  We had good links with the Maudesly, the community mental health teams and other charitable low-cost therapy centres like The Lorrimore and Charterhouse (both of which lost funding some years ago). I was also part of a counselling development group where I led meetings with other counsellors in the borough. We looked after each other and loved our jobs. We were all ‘let go’, and this poem is how I ‘let go’ of my beloved job in the NHS.

Liz with Tesco delivery man and big ben advent calendar

The People’s NHS

For me, things started to change in 2006
I was required to ignore free association and dreams
Focus on CBT
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Cock and Bull Torture and reams
Of paperwork

Change your thoughts
Don’t believe
Leave the webs to weave
Unwoven for another life

I arrived one day at my office to find that my new
computer was bigger than my therapy chair
From that day on, I learned more about our computer
man’s relationships
Than that of my own patients

I checked my emails
‘Benefits advisor, cut, dietian, cut’
Then a knock at the door
Three nice young men in overalls
“We have come to measure your radiator” they chimed
It was the end of the tax year
Health and safety pockets lined
The excuse, someone had died
Falling out of bed onto a radiator

Once the radiator cover was built and installed into my
counsellor’s shrine
(and into every consulting room, not just mine)
I noticed the nice men had omitted to cut a hole where
I would be able to change the temperature
It took time to get the key to unlock the cover of the radiator
To take it off
Every time it was hot
Or cold or cold or hot

That key and cover were so stiff
I needed my computer man to shift
To turn it up or down
Down or up

Then ….

The forms came marching 2 by 2 hoorah, hoorah
The forms came marching 4 by 4 hoorah, hoorah
The forms came marching 6 by 6
There’s only time for a temporary fix
And they all went marching, down, to the arc, to get out
Of the cuts
Boom boom boom

The ship of relations became an arc of robotics
Clinical supervision was questioned and funds taken away
Management supervision now, more forms and box ticking
Volunteers gone, no funds to support them
And as my support was taken from me
It was easy to see
Why my MS kicked in
I had to use my stick to get myself in
To work
Or not to work?
That was the question

As for the patients
My needs took over from theirs
The new psychologists weren’t aware
It’s not their fault
They are required to vault
From box to box
Helpless to helpless

With nowhere to refer
The arc almost sank
Thank God for the food bank
And suicide note
That keeps the helpers afloat

You need to vote
And protest
Before you are bereft
Of the NHS

Thoughts on how I would pick myself up now while waiting for the Tesco Deliveryman

Tesco delivery man and Liz

I love Ken Loach, I really, really love him. I’ve seen ‘Sorry We Missed You’ and ‘I Daniel Blake’ and last week I saw him on a chat show talking with a council tenant about the squalid accommodation and homelessness in our country. A man on the ‘phone-in’ to Ken said “20 years ago I had social issues and became homeless, through council housing, help with benefits and working at £5 a week, I eventually got a job £21,000 a year, if I hadn’t had social housing and help I would not have been able to pick myself up.”

After moving to London, then escaping from my heroin addict boyfriend’s flat (where we sub-rented a flat on the 15th floor of one of those blocks in Gunnersbury, near to the Steam museum, the ones used in the comedy ‘People do Nothing’, they stand out when you’re driving out of London and onto the M4), I ended up sleeping on a friend’s living room floor. Going back to my home town in Essex wasn’t an option, I had just started in therapy and was beginning to make sense of my childhood in relation to the ‘wild’ Liz I’d turned out to be. I was at the time desperate to keep my new job as a clinic assistant at a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in the West End, they were funding my counselling training, however wild I was, I was good at listening.

I slept on the floor at my friend’s flat for 9 months, it was very kind of her to let me do this, I was jeopardising her tenancy agreement, but it wasn’t just the floor that was hard. I had MS symptoms and rheumatic pains, I was under the Lupus clinic at St Thomas’s and the Neurology and Rheumatology clinics at Guy’s. Everything was painful and uncomfortable, inside and out. It was my new, very wonderful psychotherapist who had taken me on as a low-cost patient, who helped me write a letter to Southwark housing. Three months later I was offered a one-bedroom flat in Bermondsey, a hard to let flat on a troubled estate, but it was home and from then on, I was able to transfer, and like Ken’s caller, my career took off and I was able to get a mortgage when my first child was born, with a deposit (courtesy of a friend who had died age 53 I’d met through the MS society). Having been able to receive this help at this time in my life, I was on the housing ladder, and truly grateful, I am very fortunate.

Now, now?  Now, sadly, my story would be very different.

Tower Blocks

I wanted to live in a tower block

A buzzer instead of a knock

As a child I envied Mary, Mungo and Midge (1960’s cartoons)

I wondered that if people lived in closer proximity

They may share more intimacy

In London I moved in with my Scots carpenter whose beauty deteriorated as his heroin addiction was built upon

Jokingly, he picked me up one day and dangled me out of the window of the 15thfloor tower block

This was not the intimacy I had been longing for

But my psychotherapist taught me there was more