NHS worker’s open letter to Tory MP who called non-millionaires “low achievers”

By Joe Mellor, Deputy Editor

Please have a read of NHS worker Olaya De la Iglesia open letter to rich Tory MP Alan Duncan who indicated that people who are not millionaires are “low achievers.”

Open letter to Sir Alan Duncan

I heard what you had to say today [Monday] about achievement and I would like to explain why I disagree in your interpretation of what a high achiever is.

I work for the NHS, I have done so since 2003. And currently I get paid £13£/hr to work as a community physiotherapist. I am, in your eyes, a ‘low achiever’ because I do not have wealth to stash off shore, but let me explain to you how I got here to qualify my assertion.

I came to the UK in 2000 at the tender age of 19 because back in Spain, I could not get a decent job as a massage therapist if I did not speak English (yes, you heard right). I came to learn a language and get work experience to take back with me so I could stop depending on my parents. I started in a nightclub as a bartender, then at Boots as a Christmas temp, after which I ensured I secured a job in the pharmacy where I received some healthcare related training.

This helped me become a dialysis assistant in the NHS. By this point I had met the man that would become my husband and realised I was not going back to Spain anytime soon so I set to carve myself a future in the UK. This was 2002.

Despite having 13 A Levels from Spain, none would be accepted in a British university so I took 3 of them, in the evenings, while working full time, in a language I was not fully familiar with. I got 2 As and a B. I then decided I needed a variety of experience so became a Radiology Assistant.

I then applied for University and on my third attempt I gained a place for the Physiotherapy training course (over 300 applicants for interview and 40 places, some very stiff competition). I completed it without any financial assistance from my parents in 2009, worked evenings (sometimes until 2am in A&E) and weekends as a Radiology Assistant and Physiotherapy assistant on top of the 1000 hrs of clinical practice needed. I got a high 2:1.

Because I was known in the department for my work ethic, I was one of the few graduates to secure a job prior to qualification. I did my full time rotations, on call work, orthopaedic weekend cover, and commuted 2 hours a day for 5 years (some weeks would be 60+ hours).

By this point I was 32 and it was time to start a family, but I could not let my career slip so throughout 2 pregnancies and 2 periods of maternity leave, dealing with a 2 year old and a new-born, I set about completing my MSc in Psychology, which is setting me back a further £10k and which I am still doing, in the evenings, while I work 30 hrs a week and raise 2 children under 3.

This is in order to access the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology that will allow me to practice as both a psychologist and physiotherapist. Alongside this, for the last two and a half years, I have done the accounting, admin, website and online presence management and general support for my husband’s business as a heating engineer.

I learnt how to code html and css, how to do bookkeeping, accounting and how heating engineering works just to ensure his business would be a success.

Now you might ask, why do all this to only get paid £13£/hr. I will enlighten you. Because my measure of achievement is getting up every day to help people to walk to the toilet independently again. To be able to cut their own food and to leave the house without an ambulance to wheel them out of the house.

My measure of achievement is helping a bilateral amputee to get out of his bed without a hoist, to wash himself and get out onto their garden with their wheelchair without their 75 year old wife having to push them over the threshold, because the local council does not have the funds or housing stock to provide a suitably adapted home.

My measure of achievement is to be able to help a person regain control of their life despite suffering from unimaginable pain while there is no psychological support to help with their depression and anxiety. Or to keep a woman that has lived in the same house for 58 years, where she raised her children and saw her husband die, from having to ‘be put’ in a residential home because she has dementia, is falling every other day and her family can’t cope with the situation given the lack of social services support.

As I see the NHS and social net crumble around me (and I have watched it change from the inside for 14 years) my measure of achievement is whether I can stick it out, continuing to be the advocate for my patients despite just scraping by financially.

Fighting for their quality of life and dignity in a system where the resources are ever decreasing, the demands for more never stop and true advocates are only seen at the front line of a war between financial interests and social need. And I can assure you these demands do not come from my patients, they come from a political class who have such sense of self-entitlement that they deem wealth as the only worthy measure of achievement for those that might want to stand for election to represent their ‘peers’. Yes, peers, because as I see it the current ruling party has a much in common with my peers, as bacon has with speed, and surely that needs to change.

For one I would be ecstatic to see a House of Commons and a House of Lords full of ‘low achievers’ like me. I can guarantee if that was the case we would not be in this frightful mess.

#proudlowachiever #alanduncan #siralanduncan

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