I LOVE the NHS. When I was a child, because of the NHS, someone I dearly loved got the cancer treatment he needed from caring doctors, which gave him three extra precious years with us.
As an adult, I love training and working in the NHS, being able to treat patients as equals regardless of their background or financial ability to pay for expensive tests or treatments.
I have just moved from North Lincolnshire to Yorkshire – as a true native, I was pleased this worked out to be on Yorkshire Day. Moving around a lot is a necessary part of our training; this year I’ll be working in a different building every four months. Goodbyes are always really hard, and you get a milder form of that ‘first day in school’ feeling more often than you might imagine.
The last two weeks at Scunthorpe Hospital were quite stressful with not enough staff on my ward. On my last day, I repeatedly heard other junior doctors say variations of: “We survived, can you believe it?”
There are a lot of anti-social aspects to being a doctor. Weekend work, evening work, twilight shifts. However, many doctors also have lots of ‘homework’ to do when we get back after a busy day – exam revision (yes, we still have several difficult exams to pass even as qualified doctors – exams that cost us a lot of money to sit), portfolio development, research, planning teaching... things that we do in our own time. But still, I love my wonderfully privileged job and I believe that loving my job helps me be a better doctor for my patients.
However, I do have my concerns. These centre on the loss of safeguards to ensure safe working hours could be lost, with no financial penalties for hospitals when their doctors are having to stay much too late to make sure patients are safe. Many of us already stay after our shift has ended and doctors are working until 10pm on even more weeknights and Saturdays, frustrated and sad because they rarely tuck their kids in to bed and are paying more for out-of-hours childcare despite not receiving any extra pay or better conditions.
Then there is the threat of doctors’ pay being penalised when they take time out of training for academic work or research which is needed to keep our NHS as excellent as it is, along with a lack of recognition of the responsibilities doctors have when they are ‘on call’.
This would be the effect of the recommendations for junior doctors’ contracts which the Review Body for Doctors’ and Dentists’ Remuneration (DDRB), by request of the Government, has produced. This would affect all junior doctors, which can amount to 10 years or more for some career paths in the profession.
This would, therefore, impact on our NHS, and patients. The NHS is already facing many challenges at the moment – whether it be the fragmentation of healthcare and the rise of private providers or a tired, demoralised workforce.
We already have a 24/7 NHS for emergency care. To make all planned clinics and non-emergency theatre lists 24/7, we would need many more doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, pharmacists, porters... the list goes on. With no promise for the necessary extra resources, this would mean a thinner spread of people working during the week. We are already incredibly busy throughout the week, so with even fewer staff... well, we can all do the maths for the implications on patients.
Doctors are subject to change frequently – moving to new areas and hospitals, new guidelines and structures, new teams. But I am entirely certain that this would be a disastrous change. An unhealthy, undervalued and further demoralised workforce will undoubtedly have a negative effect on patient care.
When I was a child, because of the NHS, someone I loved dearly got the cancer treatment he needed from caring doctors – because the doctors were human. While science and research informed the process of his treatment, the humanity of the staff informed us of the rationale, the detail and the implications of the process. We trusted our NHS to give the best care possible.
I want our children, the next generation, to have an NHS we can still be proud of. An NHS where our patients can receive the high quality care we want to give them – publicly funded and publicly provided. An NHS where all patients and all staff are valued. An NHS where doctors are not dehumanised. An NHS that you and I can still love.
• Dr Melody Redman is a junior doctor at Scunthorpe General Hospital. She has written this piece in conjunction with the British Medical Association.