Melody Redman: Overtime reliance no way to run NHS

THE clock struck five on Christmas Eve. My train was due in 19 minutes.

My bags were all packed, I’d got my ticket, and the Christmas presents were all neatly wrapped, but I was still stuck at work, still with many jobs to do.

If I left right then I would make it home for our Christmas Eve Chinese take-away – a tradition that’s particularly important and sentimental to us – but with the number of patients who had been admitted overnight, there was no way I would finish in time to make it home to my family.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It was the same for my colleagues trying to get home for the New Year.

I would have to work over shift, miss my train and miss our Christmas tradition; a thought which, with all honesty, made my heart sink a little and left me thinking ‘If only I had a job where I could just work my hours’. I appreciate that many people have to work over-shift, and I am generally happy to stay late as it can make a huge difference to my patients, but relying on staff to work over-shift is not a sustainable way of running the NHS.

When a doctor is making a decision about your health and well-being, you want to feel confident that they are able to make the best judgements. But if a doctor is jaded or tired this can affect whether they are able to make effective and accurate decisions about their patients’ care.

Sadly, a recent survey of doctors by the British Medical Association found that 50 per cent of respondents described their morale as low or very low. Doctors must be allowed to enjoy a life outside of medicine to ensure that they come to work revitalised and enthusiastic so their patients get the care they deserve.

Although I was disappointed I wouldn’t make it home for our family dinner, thoughts about my own situation soon vanished when I approached my next patient, Mrs Long. Mrs Long has three young children who were expecting her to be home for Christmas. Unfortunately we found that she had a dangerously low amount of neutrophils – cells that fight infection – and it was not safe to send her home.

For so many of us, there is something intangible about the importance of being with those we love at Christmas and this often takes on a much greater significance when we are forced to recognise the frailty of our own health. It was no surprise that Mrs Long wept at the news she would not be spending Christmas at home with her children, and as she wept my words could not console her.

Thankfully there were many patients that we could help to get home in time for the big day. Her Majesty the Queen said in her speech this year that “even in the unlikeliest of places hope can still be found”. Even though hospitals are places of sickness and sometimes a place of sadness, it is also a place of hope,
and this certainly proved true over Christmas.

In the run up to Christmas Day and all the expectations that the season brings, it seemed as though some of our patients had even more hope, and improved more quickly. In the days preceding, in hospital notes and referrals, we would write ‘Please see Mr Brown… so that he gets home in time for Christmas’. The hospital came together with the unified target of ensuring patients were well to go home to celebrate with their families.

Of course, the saddest of all are those who do not have loved ones around to spend Christmas with – something no medication or surgery can resolve. I thought on this as I finally made it
home. Although I was a few hours
late, I got to spend a lovely Christmas day with my family, something that many of our patients don’t get to do, and something that should not be taken for granted.

When I arrived back at work for a twelve hour shift on Boxing Day, it was overwhelmingly busy. The hospital never stops, and patients still become ill on bank holidays! I was grateful for the thoughtful patients who expressed their gratitude in the form of chocolate as it fuelled me to work until an extremely late lunch break.

Despite the increased workload and pressure at Christmas and New Year, one of the doctors who encourages me the most summed it up completely. He arrived home tired after working over twelve hours on Christmas Day to an ironic dinner of turkey rashers, but
still said: “It’s still such a privilege
to be an NHS doctor.” I couldn’t agree more.

Dr Melody Redman is a junior doctor at Scunthorpe General Hospital.