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When accountants attack the tearoom

It is my job to report the grassroots issues that affect us employees within the NHS, and I warn herein that yet another cornerstone of our health service is now under increasing threat.

Forget hospital closures, ward closures and even bed closures. The accountants are now attacking the very soul of the system — the tearoom.

It is said that an army marches on its stomach. With the NHS army, that stomach is fuelled by caffeine, and up until recently my department’s tearoom was funded by consultant staff through a joint trust fund.

However, this apparently contravenes some arcane (unless you collect matchboxes and earwax) tax law, and staff now have to pay into a joint fund with a rotating administrator (how I wish that could be made true), with the inevitable consequence of a fridge full of three-quarter-empty milk cartons displaying various shades of green as they vie for the title of best culture medium.

One week in, and there are already heated arguments between secretaries about whose sugar sachet (never mind the fact that it has been lifted from the canteen) is whose, with drawers previously filled with stationery now containing padlocked plastic boxes full of biscuits.

At first, I thought this was just another way of enforcing the unwritten policy of decreasing efficiency by increasing complexity, but I am now secretly wondering whether this is a clever way of increasing revenue generated by the café at the front of the building.

A further piece of supportive evidence comes from our microbiology department, where the tearoom, rather worryingly, lies directly opposite where TB culturing takes place (presumably not bovine, and presumably not in tearoom fridge). Over the past fortnight, high-security metal doors have been erected, under the dubious excuse of a counterterrorism initiative. Everyone else in laboratory medicine knows the real reason is to create another obstacle to their hourly injection of caffeine.

We can’t even strike while the kettle’s hot, and picket the café without going into it. How on earth can you take industrial action without a nice cup of tea to keep you warm?

Hypocritus is a doctor and a BMA News columnist