WHAT are the biggest problems affecting our population’s health? A generation where obesity threatens to overwhelm our healthcare system? A society where hidden issues of elder abuse and child abuse can go unnoticed and unchallenged? A country where undeliverable, headline-grabbing promises are made of our already over-stretched healthcare system? Whichever issues you consider most pressing, the reality is that the challenges facing our NHS are growing.
But how can we effectively face them? That was the question asked at the British Medical Association’s Annual Representatives Meeting in Liverpool last week, where doctors gathered together to debate and develop new policies for the BMA to act upon.
We highlighted the need for communities to do more to support and protect our children; we called for improved awareness, education, and processes to ensure that elder abuse is recognised and dealt with appropriately, and we argued that we need specialist weight management healthcare units to help tackle the increasing obesity issue.
These issues are having a real impact in today’s society and need a united, firm, and driven response. A response that many colleagues and I believe is part of our responsibility as doctors. This is why we are suggesting and working towards real and manageable strategies and solutions, but we need support from the government and appropriate authorities to enact most of our suggestions.
The conference reminded me that there is a limit to doctors’ resilience; at some point we need to look after ourselves, in order that we might look after you and your loved ones most effectively.
Often, when we have devoted relatives on the wards waiting with their loved ones as their condition deteriorates, amidst my discussions and offer of available support, I make a point to remind them of the importance of attempting to regularly eat and sleep despite their desire to remain by their side.
This improves their stamina and ensures they are able to continue. Despite an often overpowering desire to support those we care about above all else, sometimes we have to make sure we are taking care of ourselves; we need to stop ourselves from burning out.
During the conference, doctors raised concerns that the unprecedented and increasing pressure on doctors, alongside the government’s focus on budget cuts, is affecting patient care, and having an impact on doctors’ wellbeing.
A recent British Medical Association survey showed that nine out of 10 GPs feel their heavy workload has negatively impacted on the quality of patient services, and a third of doctors consider themselves to be suffering from, or have suffered from, burnout.
Politicians continue to tell us how much they treasure the NHS, yet they keep making unachievable promises to win headlines. The Government has pledged to expand services, though without any convincing detail or costing.
It has promised an extra £8bn a year by 2020 when all agree the deficit is £30bn, and it has now admitted that the promise of 5,000 more GPs which we repeatedly called unachievable, is the maximum it might achieve.
The crisis facing the NHS is real, but the Government’s solutions show little grasp of reality.
During the conference, doctors consistently voiced the importance of the government engaging with us to produce an appropriately resourced NHS, reminding me of the disillusionment which we battle against as we strive to deliver the best care we can.
One of most profound comments I heard was by Professor Andrew Rowland, consultant in paediatric emergency medicine, who stated with poignancy: “What is the use of us being doctors, what is the use of this meeting, what is the point of us living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this troubled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?”
There are so many challenges facing our patients and our society, which I will continue to work to improve, alongside many like-minded colleagues, preferably in conjunction with the government.
On that note, I challenge you, too, to do what you can in your own life and in the situations around you, to work to challenge societal problems and support the vulnerable among us.
Dr Melody Redman is a junior doctor at Scunthorpe General Hospital. The British Medical Association is the voice of doctors and medical students in the UK.