Melody Redman: Hopes for future of our NHS after a turbulent year

Junior doctors on a picket line in Sheffield.
Junior doctors on a picket line in Sheffield.
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IN the first of a three-part mini series, Melody Redman reflects on past year working on the NHS front line.

AS another December draws to an end, I’m reflecting on some very happy moments and some very painful moments, as is typical in the life of an NHS doctor. I am saddened when I reflect on the way the Government has mishandled various issues within the NHS and am frustrated as I recall the countless ignored calls from doctors asking for issues to be addressed.

This year has been a challenging one for me personally as I have completed my two years of broad foundation training and move onto the next stage of training; a mixed clinical and academic pathway in children’s medicine. My most prominent reflections are, however, the issues which the wider NHS has faced.

This time last year, I wrote about my concerns about the sustainability of our overstretched workforce. Sadly, I end this year even more concerned about this than previously. In what has been a landmark year, we have witnessed unprecedented industrial action from junior doctors. My colleagues and I felt very much backed into a corner by the Government, who had committed to imposing a contract we believed unsuitable for the delivery of sustainable patient care and unfair on junior doctors. We feared for patients, colleagues and for the next generation of doctors.

Though there were evident difficulties throughout the highly publicised dispute, we were overwhelmed by public support – from bringing good cheer and snacks to the picket line, to bringing messages of gratitude. We definitely felt as though the public were behind us.

However, despite several bouts of industrial action and negotiations between the Government and the British Medical Association, junior doctors rejected the offer which Ministers proposed as it failed to address all of their outstanding areas of concern. Rather than agreeing to address these issues, the Government proceeded to implement the contract. Morale took another hit.

The annual national training survey by the General Medical Council recently reported that over half of junior doctors are working beyond their rostered hours, and a quarter are left sleep-deprived on a weekly basis due to the demands of their work. Many groups and individuals have consistently raised concerns about the bottomed-out level of junior doctor morale. Indeed, a report from the Royal College of Physicians found that half of junior doctors feel morale is so low that it is having a negative impact on patient safety.

We have also seen a drop of four per cent in applications to medical schools this year. If the service is to remain sustainable, doctors, medical students and the next generation must all still feel that medicine is a rewarding career.

Insufficient funding for social care, public health inadequacies, and questions raised about the impact of Brexit, are also causes for concern. Though the impact of Brexit still remains to be seen, I can vouch for my many colleagues from outside of the UK who work tirelessly to keep the NHS afloat. In times when the NHS is facing severe staff shortages, we should be attracting skilled overseas workers, not deterring them.

But it’s not all bad news, 2016 has also seen many important advances in research and there have been many quality improvement projects helping to make the NHS a better place for patients and staff. Remarkably, this year a quarter more patients have been able to benefit from having an organ transplant which is a tremendous effort.

I am inspired when I think of Dr Kate Granger, who sadly passed away this year. Regionally, she worked at Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust and raised a lot of money for the Yorkshire Cancer Centre. Beyond this she touched the hearts of many much further afield – even on an international level. Her #hellomynameis campaign, has inspired a generation of healthcare professionals in improving our interactions with patients.

When all is said and done, I look at the dedication of the colleagues I have worked with in the last year – doctors, nurses, pharmacists, porters, cleaners (the list goes on) – and I have hope for the future of the NHS. I see many dedicated people putting their all into making this system work. I see the way children who may come from families who couldn’t afford Christmas presents this year are treated equally to those from very wealthy backgrounds. It is a privilege to be part of this system which we all share – our NHS. For all the substantial challenges and erosions it continues to face, and all the significant efforts it will take to maintain it, it is wholly worth fighting for.

Tomorrow: Dealing with winter pressures.

Dr Melody Redman is a junior doctor at Sheffield Children’s Hospital.