Tuesday, 12 January 2016

NHS: Junior doctors strike

This is a bit of an essay, but I just want to have my say. I'm in the UK and we are lucky enough to have a National Health Service. The NHS means a lot to me as a patient. I have a lot of chronic conditions- the NHS has done a lot for me over the years, and if the government runs the NHS into the ground (which seems to be its intention), an insurance company wouldn't want to take me on. It'd be an inconvenience for many healthy people, but an absolute disaster for the thousands of people like me.

I am totally in support of the junior doctors strike. The team of junior doctors were incredible while I was in hospital. Some of them were always there each day when we were woken up, and still there when we were settling down into bed each night, including over weekends. The team of junior doctors took all the bloods, were on all the ward rounds, discussed diagnoses with family members, supervised students, made life-saving decisions, re-assessed patients whenever a new symptom emerged or there was a deterioration etc etc. The ward just wouldn't have functioned without them (I don't mean during the strike- consultants will provide cover- I mean they're an integral and important part of the running of the ward). 

The junior doctors weren't hardened like some of the older doctors, they empathised with us as patients, and you felt truly supported by them every step of the way. The kind smiles of support from them each day when they were walking up the corridor or on the ward round meant such a lot. One of the senior registrars (still 'a junior doctor') sat down with my family and I during visiting time a few weeks into my admission and discussed absolutely everything with us at length and answered questions- he was great. The first time I was allowed off the ward with no medical staff, several of them popped in when I arrived back to ask me all about my day and they were so genuinely pleased for me. On a day that was truly hellish from beginning to end, and I was really seriously struggling both physically and emotionally, one of the junior doctors came and sat with me and chatted to me and showed me pictures of her dog- it was exactly what I needed. On a day when the lady next to me was literally fighting for her life, a junior doctor was constantly by her side until she was safely transferred to ICU. Another day one of the junior doctors stayed past the end of her shift feeding one of the patients on my bay and chatting to us. A junior doctor came to me once when I couldn't move, my head was at a horrible angle and I was buzzing for a nurse- I couldn't communicate easily, but she spent the time establishing that I was in pain and then getting me more comfortable. A couple of them came and assessed me when I had sudden difficulties and persevered despite me having difficulty physically co-operating. A lot of these things are beyond their 'job description' but they did them because they cared about us, as well as caring for us, and also because they were working as part of a team- a team stretched to its limit, that sometimes has to help each other out; if one of us needed something and there were no nurses or healthcare assistants around, often a junior doctor or physio would step in. The government can't keep squeezing and squeezing and expect patient care to not be affected though. And it certainly can't expect morale not to be affected, and given the amount that is currently done simply out of good will, you wonder how long that will continue if they keep pushing staff the way they are and with all the cuts and conflict over contracts.

Before my hospital admission I never gave junior doctors or their role much thought, but now I have SO much respect for them, and having discussed the issues surrounding the contract with one or two of them, it's clear that money is not their motive, it's patient safety and care. The government are trying to remove safeguards that maintain safe working hours- as a patient that is seriously concerning. The hours they work are already antisocial, and with the number of unpaid hours many of them put in, they could actually earn the same amount doing the same hours in a very low paid job- given that these people have to deal with the responsibility of having lives in their hands, that's just so wrong. So I back the junior doctors wholeheartedly, and wish them the very best of luck in their discussions with government!

In terms of the '7 day NHS', I do agree it would be great, if we had the staff and resources, but we simply don't. During the 10 weekends I spent in hospital, I received very little medical input- they were simply keeping me alive until Monday each week. But I was still being closely monitored, mostly by the nurses, and towards the end I was well enough for some trips out during the weekend days (when there is no formal rehab) and that gave me some rehab that can't be done in hospital in formal physio sessions. That being said, physio at weekends would've been appreciated, if there were enough physios for that to actually be provided. I don't really think there was any problem with the amount of doctor contact I had at weekends- I still spoke to a doctor each day, so they were aware how I was doing and any urgent issues were dealt with and more senior staff involved as needed. Urgent and emergency care is provided at weekends already, and that's all that is actually needed and the best that can realistically be managed unless significantly more staff were trained and employed.

Infographics simply explaining the issues that mean I'll be supporting the junior doctor's strike on the 12th January. From goo.gl/uGWaVF: