13 January 2016

Five minutes of fame

Image result for stethoscope
Kay had her five minutes of fame yesterday - her photo was on a lot of the media websites as she protested about junior doctors' working conditions. I do hope the paparazzi don't camp on my doorstep wanting an interview. Joking aside, it has been clear talking to a lot of people that they don't understand the real issue of the strike. They see junior doctors as money-grabbing, not devoted to their calling and not caring about their patients.The reality is so different.

First the term "junior doctor" suggests someone straight out of university like Kay, but "junior doctor" can mean anyone who is not yet a consultant or a GP. Therefore a lot of those on strike are thirty-somethings (even older) with spouses, families and a mortgage to support.

The strike has never been about pay, in fact at no point in this current debate have the doctors made any request for more pay. The strike has been all about the safety of patients, but seeing as I've mentioned pay, the starting salary for a junior doctor fresh out of university is £22,600. Bear in mind they have studied for 5 or 6 years to get to that point and have a lot of student loan to pay back, they are at least aged about 24 or25 when they start work. In some cases they can be considerably older as not all would-be medical students get into medicine first time round and have to do another degree first to demonstrate they can cope with medicine. To start in your mid-twenties at £22,000 when other graduates are being offered a considerable lot more is disappointing. Even shop assistants earn more than that without any training at all. But, as I say, the strike has never been about pay. Doctors know what the pay is going to be , when they start, and they accept that, because they are doing the job they want to do. If they work on-call and at weekends they get paid extra, but on-call varies according to where you are and what you do, so that is not a given salary booster for most of them. Kay for example regularly had to work weekends (as well as the weekdays either side) resulting in 12 days in one run without a break. For the Government to say they are offering an 11% pay rise is misleading. The 11% would be based on the £22,000 and abolish the extra for working weekends, so 11% to work 12 days without a break every so often would actually work out as a pay-cut.

So if not about pay, what is the strike about? Surely doctors are doing what they do as a calling and not to endanger patients? Exactly. Doctors love their job and want to do their best to help every patient. The reality is that they work such long hours that they are tired and make mistakes. They recognise that this is not safe for patients. In Kay's case, she has had  to work 13 or 14-hour days, starting at 7am and finishing around 9pm, sometimes longer. You get up, go to work and come home in time to grab a snack and fall into bed. Social life or even an evening slouched in front of the TV is non-existent. For those who are married or have children, it means they hardly see their loved ones. Kay is often so busy she doesn't have more than 5 minutes for lunch.  After 12 days of 14-hour shifts, she says it is like thinking through mud. Even a simple mathematical calculation, such as working out the correct dose of drug per kilogram body weight of patient, can cause her problems, because she is so tired. Fortunately so far she has not killed anyone or done anything dangerous but she has narrowly escaped overlooking something vital , because she was too numb from tiredness. This is the hub of the problem every junior doctor can see. There are not enough of them to bring the hours down to more manageable shift hours. If someone wants to take a day's leave, it falls on the few left to cover. 

The argument has been made that there are other jobs which involve unsociable hours. In the retail trade, for example, people are required to work late into the evening and at weekends. That is true. But they probably get a decent break for lunch and, if they make a mistake, the worst that can happen is that they undercharge someone or tell them it is not in stock, when it actually is. A doctor does not get a sufficient break during their hectic day and, if they make a mistake, the consequences can be dire. I don't need to spell it out.

Much keeps being said about a 24/7 service, but that already exists, so far as doctors are concerned. If you are ill out of hours or at weekend, there are on-call doctors to treat you. If you are already in hospital, there is  (pardon the pun) a skeleton staff of on-call doctors working over the weekend to treat you.  But it is no good treating patients, if there are no x-ray staff or physiotherapists or cleaners or whatever to support the doctors. This is where the 24/7 service needs bolstering, as well as extra doctors to cope with a fully operational 24/7 service rather than overloading existing staff with even more hours.

So next time you see the doctors striking, please do not think they are selfish, money-grabbing and uncaring. It is because they care for their patients' safety that they are striking at all.They do not want to strike, but nobody is listening to their cries for help and before long it could be too late to avoid a tragedy.

Image result for tired doctor


Graham Hunt said...

I wore my sticker with pride after meeting the jolly picket outside the Royal College of GPs yesterday

Sarah said...

I couldn't agree more with you. Personally I think that pay should be an issue - at the end of the day your salary is your remuneration for the work you do. Most people see their level of pay as a reflection of how they are regarded. Doctors do an amazing, stressful job and the reality of it is that they are just not valued as such.

Flowerpot said...

Hear hear Addy - I can't believe they have had to go on strike it seems incredible an d so unfair when they work so hard. Good for Kay!

Shadow said...

It's shocking that the qualified people we expect to take care of us, are treated this way. Anyone who is overworked due to having to work extra hours to make ends meet cannot possible be an ideal situation. I hope a good compromise can be reached.

Trisha E. said...

The situation Kay is experiencing is truly long overdue in being corrected. Many new grads in business and tech fields are extremely well paid and get great benefits.
When I got out of veterinary school years ago after 7 years of college I was paid less than our trash collectors and had to be on call every 2nd-3rd night (often involving driving 50 miles or more in blizzard conditions to see night emergencies, for which I got paid NOTHING). It was almost impossible to have a social life. After 7 years of this I was desperate to get out of the field, not because I didn't love the work but because of the unfair pay and hopeless hours. I finally learned of an opportunity to own my own practice in California and took it. The schedule was still terribly demanding, but finally I was able to get paid properly and occasionally take time off when it was important to me.
Best of luck to Kay in her efforts to improve conditions for all the med students and young doctors!

auntiegwen said...

I back the doctors 100% my Facebook is the place I vent the most, having previously been a nurse and worked with junior doctors who were getting less pay than the cleaners for their overtime rate, more power to them x

Maggie May said...

Most people that I have contact with are sympathetic to the doctors... even people who've had there ops cancelled etc.
I did manage to get my scan on Tuesday and was relieved about that but I would have understood if it had have been cancelled.
Let's hope the Government listen because otherwise the whole scheme will be in jeopardy.
Maggie x