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These Are The Hands -- Pt 1: Review

These are the hands That touch us first Feel your head Find the pulse And make your bed. Michael Rosen, ‘These are the Hands’

These Are The Hands is a celebration of the NHS and those who work in it. The collection of poetry showcases the whole range of individuals who make up the NHS, ranging from those beginning their careers - student nurses, medical students and junior doctors – to those on the eve of retirement. Heartfelt and honest poems from medical and non-medical staff alike are brought together, giving voices to those often ‘unseen and unsung’. We hear from nurses, doctors, speech and language therapists, librarians, and cleaning staff. The poems provide an insight into the workings of a system that is often taken for granted. In ‘Comrades’, Junior doctor Eilidh Urquhart describes the unique, intertwined relationships of patient and doctor, together ‘bound by a hope of a brighter future. / The two of us in the fight for your life.’ Hospital porters, the vital workforce keeping the hospital moving, are described by midwife Anna Bosanquet as ‘the gondoliers of the NHS’. ‘Only the Cleaner’ by Ashleigh Condon portrays the unique contribution cleaning teams make to the therapeutic journey of patients; ‘I won’t jab your veins, / relax, take a break’ … ‘I’m only the cleaner; that means your safe’. The culmination of these voices is a collection that is inspiring and moving, providing a fresh appreciation of those who care for us at our most vulnerable.

The poetry of NHS staff is placed side by side with that of renowned writers and poets, such as Wendy Cope, Michael Rosen, Sheenagh Pugh and Dannie Abse. Some have personal experience of working in the NHS; Absie worked as a chest physician for over 30 years. The collection is an interdisciplinary collaboration between Deborah Alma and Katie Amiel. Alma teaches Creative Writing at Keele University, and her work demonstrates her commitment to the healing powers of poetry. She has run poetry workshops in multiple settings, including hospices for people with dementia, and in schools. Amiel, a London GP, applies her interest in the arts and humanities to improve the wellbeing of healthcare professionals with her project The Bigger Picture. The two combine their passion for poetry with their admiration for the NHS. Founded in 1948, the NHS continues to serve the people of the UK, relying, as the introduction puts it, ‘on the hands and hearts of more than 1.5 million staff’. Simon Armitage, the Poet Laureate, has stated that ‘every ward and waiting room should have a copy’; the collection also deserves a place in every home that values the NHS.

All proceeds from the collection go towards the NHS Charities Covid-19 Emergency Fund. Elizabeth Whitehouse

intercalated BA in Medical Humanities

Bristol, May 2020


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