You will probably have heard about the planned changes to the NHS , as they have been an almost constant topic in UK news. In a nutshell, there has been a lot of conflict regarding a new contract for junior doctors (please note that junior doctors can be anything up to consultant). Cleverly disguised by a claimed “increase in pay” and “decrease in hours” it aims to make NHS services available all week. However, this will entail many doctors being required to work antisocial hours – without the same additional pay. Having already sacrificed enough for their career, many doctors turned to strikes to spread their message. Considering we live in a democratic country, one would think that this would have led to some sort of reconsideration, however, the preferred method of control is evidently to simply force it upon them.
I’ve grown up surrounded by medical careers for all my life, and have experienced the extreme sacrifices that doctors make at both ends of the ladder. As a child, I dealt with hardly seeing my father as he spent hour upon hour working incredibly hard to save other people’s lives. I would wake up to the screech of tyres as he left in the morning, and fall asleep long before he arrived home. Weekends provided little relief as the study became a “no go area” and the phone was heavily guarded lest it ring and summon him to work. We were no strangers to the joys of waking up to my father leaving in the middle of the night or being told he wouldn’t be home this Saturday.
Growing up with a consultant father is similar to growing up without one.
Always dedicated, my father would often work overtime to ensure a patient’s safety but the hours got longer and longer. I stood helpless as our lives were controlled by my father’s work. Our location, holidays and routine depended on a piece of paper. It is, of course, amazing to know that my dad is saving lives, but it is less amazing to spend your childhood not knowing one of your parents.
The time we did have was plagued with stress and exhaustion, and in the end the stress of long hours and hard work led my father to a ward himself after his body decided it was too much. It was only then that we started seeing my father more. It took until his role was reversed before he was given a break, and this is exactly what is facing many other doctors now.
Now that I am older, I experience a different perspective – that of my brothers. Newly qualified, he is in the perfect position to be early prey to the contract. Again, he has made countless sacrifices to his career. Anytime spent visiting home has to simultaneously be time spent studying. Anytime spent with family and friends has to be scheduled around work. And with the threat of even more time dedicated to work getting closer, we face seeing him even less. Should the contract be imposed, my brother will almost certainly leave the country.
I have also experienced the NHS from the inside. I had an extended stay of around 6 months when I was about 10. For me, it was very important to have weekends free from medical procedures.
When staying on a ward, your physical health is obviously compromised, but it also has a huge effect on your mentality and view of the world. The environment is so strange and unknown, especially to a young child, that often the most important aspect of recovery is gaining a little normality through some means. It’s essential to get a break from new, often scary, parts of your life and have some time to keep your mood up.
I got this salvation only at weekends. Without constant ward rounds and procedures, there was time for my family to visit and spend time with me – which gave me the motivation to keep fighting. My brothers and sisters could visit as they had time off school, and it was a lot easier for them to see me when the ward was quieter and a little less clinical. These visits were what I kept going for.
The weekend also meant that staff were less rushed. With only a few patients to look after, I had more time with nurses and felt my needs as a long term patient were not pushed down the ladder of prioritisation in the same way as during the week. Nurses would come and play cards with me when they weren’t busy, and I was regularly checked up on. At weekends, my new hospital home felt a little more tolerable.
A seven day system would have removed that break, and everyday would be an emotionally exhausting and terrifying battle with no relief. The tiny bit of comfort found in relaxed weekends would be gone.
So it is because of this that I am so shocked to hear that some people still support Jeremy Hunt’s decision. A man with no medical training ignoring the advice of thousands of professionals who have demonstrated through their career choice that they have the patient’s needs at heart. So the obvious action is to find out why!
Of course, there was that famous statistic stating that more people died at the weekends, but anyone with common sense would also realise that anyone being admitted to hospital at the weekend, or being kept there over the weekend (anyone well enough to go home would have left), is obviously going to be a lot sicker, and therefore less likely to recover in the first place. The NHS website has even stated that: “This study has not examined the reasons why there may be increased risk of death with weekend admission, so no assumptions should be drawn about staffing levels or the availability of senior staff.”There is also the matter of less equipment and other professionals. If you wanted to keep the NHS running over the weekend, it would be completely pointless without paying all of the other staff to come in. That is something we simply cannot afford. So we pay for the weekdays and deal with emergencies at the weekend.
As always, money is a big issue. The government won’t pay money to create an actual seven day NHS, and they won’t pay junior doctors for sacrificing their personal lives. What is the argument for this? Well, one I’ve heard a lot is that doctors are already paid plenty. However, if I had to chose one group of people to pay the most, you can be sure it would be the people saving lives. While we are on the topic, I don’t see any politicians offering to patch in with a bit of their £74,000 annual salary.
So is it because doctors aren’t working enough? Even the notion of this feels like an insult. I know for a fact that countless doctors voluntarily work at weekends, and if staff are needed, they will be there. It seems fair that by leaving there family and plans they receive aditional pay.
I apologise for having a rant like this, but if we cannot express opinions regarding changes to our country then how will anything be changed? I don’t want to leave the potential devastation to many families to chance, as if we are not careful, it will be the doctors that are staying in beds over the weekend.