It has been a curious week for Ludlow. No one could have predicted that a local spat over a donation over a £2,500 would have led to a national row that went viral on social media and was splashed across print media. Just about all the national broadcast stations have covered the story. I have seen reports on ITV, debates on BBC and LBC, and coverage in almost every national and regional newspaper.
It is time for Philip Dunne to speak. He should tell us whether he stands on fundraising and expression of gender in the NHS.
The essence of the story is that Shropshire Community Health Trust has turned down a donation because it was raised by men in drag, posing as nurses. That’s what they have done for more than twenty years. But this year, the trust has ruled the event out of order.
I think Shropshire Community Health Trust is a decade or more behind society.
The argument is based around serious issues about how we deal with sexual discrimination in the workplace and the way we understand gender.
Most people I have heard from think the health trust is wrong to refuse the donation. Others don’t agree and are highlighting issues with sexism in the health service.
This row has not been about sexism but it highlights the reality that the NHS has a long way to go before it becomes a truly equal organisation. That’s an issue for the health bosses that run the 8,749 organisations that deliver publicly funded health in England, including Shropshire Community Health Trust. From what people are saying, many health trusts are not up to speed on equality in areas like nursing and fail to deal with sexist issues in the workplace. That’s wrong and it should not happen in 2017.
Returning to the event, Shropshire Community Health Trust says: “This negative imagery reinforces old-fashioned stereotypes, demeaning the profession and inhibiting recruitment.”
They have a point about the stereotypes but I seriously doubt that a fund raising event in a small town like ours inhibits recruitment.
This brings us to gender.
In the 1980s and 1990s, we became very strict on the way people, jobs and roles were talked about. We were totally right in dropping the orthodoxy that some jobs were man jobs. We adopted a more equal language and along with it a less discriminatory attitude. That was the right thing to do but it never went far enough. At times, there was too much concentration on the way that people were described, not how they were advanced throgh their careers.
Fast forward to 2017. Most people I talk to do not think about gender now. We all recognise that sexuality, gender, covers a very wide spectrum. How people are attracted to each other, what they do – providing it’s not abusive – is not a matter for society at large or the public sector.
Alongside this we have continued our tradition of laughing at each other. Taking the mick out of our differences, our imperfections and our failure to remove stereotypes. I don’t think we should clamp down on fun events that are cross gender.
The job of society and our democratic system is to allow loving relationships, regardless of gender. That is where we should be putting our effort.
There are fossilised organisations like Shropshire Council that insists a on gender title in its paperwork. For example, one recent minute said, “The Chairman, Mrs A Hartley, took the Chair.” Why? She is Councillor Ann Hartley and that is how she should be referred to. We don’t need to say Mrs, Ms or Mr. Just Councillor Hartley would suffice.
Philip Dunne has decided to keep out the debate. As health minister and local MP, he should be speaking out loud on this. He can’t duck below the radar. All the rest of us have spoken. He needs to tell us what he thinks and what the NHS is doing.
The people I talk to see gender as gender is. They see humour as humour is. And they see humour as the best medicine.
. This is not just a health service issue. When did anyone last see a woman emptying waste and recycling bins? Every contractor that comes to my social housing flat is a bloke. But these are not bloke jobs. Just a culture that expects that some jobs are done by men.