Poems for the NHS: ‘the best poem a country has ever written’

NHS poetry anthology published.

11 February 2020

Tomorrow’s World Poetry Day sees the publication of ‘These Are The Hands: Poems From the Heart of the NHS’. The book ‘offers a unique insight into the real experiences of the people at the heart of the NHS – from the student nurse at the start of his career to the heart surgeon on the eve of her retirement.’ Amongst the contributors is British Psychological Society member and Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Khadija Rouf.

All proceeds from the book will go to NHS Charities Together, which supports over 135 official NHS Charities raising money for NHS hospitals, ambulance services, community and mental health services across the UK. The editors are Deborah Alma, the 'emergency poet' ('the world's first and only mobile poetic first aid service') who teaches Creative Writing at Keele University where she is an Honorary Research Fellow; and Dr Katie Amiel, a GP working in Hackney who is a member of the Royal College of General Practioners’ (RCGP) Wellbeing Committee, and a trained teacher of MBCT (Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy). Leading UK poets have donated poems, including Michael Rosen, Roger McGough, Lemn Sissay, Sabrina Mahfouz, and Wendy Cope. 

Dr Amiel said: ‘This is the first poetry anthology to give a voice to NHS staff at a critically important time for the NHS and its future.’ Author Stephen Fry commented: ‘A wonderful anthology to celebrate the NHS, which is itself the best poem a country has ever written’. Palliative care physician Dr Kathryn Mannix added: ‘It is utterly humbling to experience our world of healthcare through the eyes and ears of poet-practitioners. Some are exhausted and others exhilarated; some reflect the very edges of life, both its beginning and its end; some are wide-eyed with hope and others hold us in the broad sweep of their wisdom, all joining hands to create a bridge of caring...   I particularly relish the including of poems from clerical, housekeeping and other oft-unsung colleagues who keep the show on the road every day and night… This is a five-senses celebration of our workforce, our ideals and our sense of pride in being people who provide a health service for the very people we come from. Of us, by us and for us: our NHS'.  

Psychologist Dr Rouf makes two contributions to the anthology, and we reprint one of them – Contact II – below. She said: ‘I am truly honoured and delighted to be included in this collection. Poetry humanises us, and illuminates spaces that are often missed or forgotten about. It can be healing.’

- These Are The Hands is published by Fair Acre Press.

Find much more for World Poetry Day in our archive, including the winners of our annual poetry competition. 


Contact ll

Khadija Rouf


I sit at the computer to make notes,

fingers hovering over the keys,

must find a way to digest and describe

the contact,

navigating drop down boxes, finding languages –

each script has it purpose, a syntax of suffering:

clusters, symptoms, negative thoughts, risk.

An hour becomes         a paragraph. Note:

there was ‘distress’, she was ‘tearful’.


Actually, she cried, tears rimmed her eyes,

then over-topped, brimmed and spilled and she

cried and cried, whilst speaking, tears coursed

down her face, her cheeks were ruddy, her hands 

clenched.     I offered tissues, I listened.

She was crying and talking and crying

like she was finding the keys on a glass piano,

searching for harmony in hammered chords

fragile and new –

the room found its note            she stopped 

and looked out of the window.


It was snowing.

I companioned her silence        waited.

Snowflakes swirled, filling the wordless places. 

We weathered it quietly, without catastrophe.

As she left, she made ‘good eye contact’:

a bouquet of tear-stained tissues


from her hands

into the clinic room bin.

They fell, like crushed white roses.

She left her fingerprints everywhere...


I press ‘save’, switch off the computer,

ignore my cold coffee, rush home for the kids.


Later, I’m stirring dinner on the hob, absent-

minded. I drift in that space out of time

and her tears come back, her tears...


And my own come, then –