DR Kate Granger is a junior doctor, and cancer patient, from Wakefield. This is an open letter she has written to the Health Secretary about changes to the contracts of doctors ahead of a demonstration in Leeds next Wednesday.
Dear Jeremy Hunt,
I WRITE to you as a junior doctor on the verge of becoming a consultant. I write to you as a family member with young nephews and a niece, and parents about to enter older age. I write to you as a patient dying of cancer. Therefore the NHS is a central and vital part of my life.
Three weeks ago I came pretty close to dying from a serious consequence of cancer therapy. I was very unwell and needed urgent treatment in order to recover. It was the junior doctors and nurses, not the consultants, who delivered that treatment and got me better from that episode. The professionalism and compassion from these young people was amazing.
Junior doctors have a huge amount of responsibility, even from day one after graduation. I’ve saved a fair few lives in my career. I’ve also seen some extremely harrowing scenes and held the hand of dying patients as they’ve drawn their last breath.
I’ve had to lead the cardiac arrest team and prioritise how to look after more poorly patients than we’ve had doctors. I’ve been so tired that I could barely see straight after my seventh consecutive thirteen hour night shift. I’ve dragged myself into work at least an hour before my official start time for my entire career, even after becoming unwell, and rarely leave the hospital on time. I am not alone in this devotion to my vocation. We, as junior doctors, do this to ourselves because we care. We want to do the best job possible for our patients.
Protecting our young doctors so they can work, develop and flourish is essential. It is part of my job to support them educationally but as Secretary of State for Health it is also part of your responsibility. Rewarding them properly for their dedication and hard work is only fair. We’ve all missed precious occasions in the lives of our families and friends because of our rotas, but we still come to work and willingly do the job.
I was a junior doctor when the MTAS debacle happened which saw many of my friends and colleagues leave the country. Many have since returned, but your plan will see a much larger exodus of young talented doctors to the rest of the world, who offer far better pay and conditions for doctors in training.
As for seven day services, which seems to be your current mantra, you know I can already access appropriate urgent care at weekends and in the evening if I need it. I would not expect to see my GP for a routine appointment out of hours, nor would I expect to have elective stent replacement surgery on a Saturday. Spreading the under-resourced service even thinner to do routine work out of hours is going to crush the NHS. But then again perhaps that’s your plan.
Please do not impose your ridiculously unfair contract on us. Sit down with the British Medical Association with no pre-decided conditions and negotiate fairly.
We are not an unreasonable group of people. We are not even asking for a pay rise. Sadly I think we are probably only your first target; no doubt you will be coming for the nurses, midwifes, physiotherapists, dieticians, speech therapists and ward clerks next.
The NHS is a cornerstone of the United Kingdom. It should be an important institution to every United Kingdom citizen. Without it we are left with the situation we faced in the America when I was first diagnosed, where our credit card and insurance documents were the only pathway to access care. I am proud to work for the NHS and would not want to receive cancer treatment anywhere else; somewhere anyone of any means at any time can turn up unwell and receive care. Please do not destroy that for future generations.
An extremely worried and angry doctor and patient.