06 September 2016

Doctors' Strike: The Things You Don't Hear in the Media

I feel compelled to write another post about the junior doctors' strike, because it has been said that public support for the junior doctors is waning and I think this is largely attributable to the way the media has (or to be precise has not) been covering it. So much seems to be left out of the media reports, that no wonder the public are getting tired of the whole saga. I have been privileged to see it from the other side, as some of you may know, my daughter is one of those junior doctors.  So, here are a few facts you may not be aware of.......

What is a junior doctor?
Many people are under the impression  that a junior doctor is a leftist young thing straight out of university who can't be bothered to put in a day's work so soon after being a slob at uni. The media doesn't help by only interviewing doctors who look as if they should still be at school let alone having gone through uni. They are depicted at the picket lines chanting "Save our NHS" like zombies.... not a  good way to win over the public (BMA to note). 

The fact is a junior doctor is any doctor who has not yet reached consultant level. As it can take a minimum of 7 or 8 years to reach consultant, junior doctors are therefore anyone aged from 24  to in many cases someone in their 40s (Because medicine is such a difficult course to get into in the first place, many have had to take degrees in other subjects first and are in their 30s when they graduate in medicine, so can be in their 40s when they reach consultant level.) So junior doctors are often married, with children, with mortgages and with huge responsibilities.

Is the strike all about pay? 
No. Pay has never been the reason why the strike was started in  the first place. Junior doctors have never asked for a pay rise, even though the media keeps banging on about it. The pay issue has only arisen because in fact the new contract, which Jeremy Hunt seems blindly hell-bent on pushing through, actually means they will get a drop in pay. A junior doctor fresh out of university gets a basic pay of £23,000. A lot less than most graduates in other disciplines can expect as their starting salary, I might add - even shop assistants earn more than that. The young doctors can earn a bit more if they work on-call which means they work additional evening shifts and weekends floating around the hospital to deal with any emergencies on any of the wards they are not normally assigned to. This can sometimes nudge their pay up to somewhere near £30,000, but it depends how many on-call shifts they are asked to do, so it is not a salary they can rely on. Jeremy Hunt's contract will do away with the extra on-call payments and just give an 11% pay rise on the basic 23,000. You don't need to be a good mathematician to work out that this means a drop in pay in real terms.

The hours are long and morale is low.
There is no such thing as set hours in the medical profession. Doctors can hardly walk away from a sick patient when the clock shows it should be the end of their shift and their aching bones and frazzled minds are telling them it's time to go home. So they stay, because they care and want to see a job through to the end. Usually the shifts are a minimum of ten hours and in some cases longer. I have known my daughter to work 14 hours, most often without a lunch break, often without any more than a grabbed sandwich at a desk while typing up a patients notes. On some occasions she has had no time even for a toilet break! Keeping up a 10- or 14-hour shift is bad enough for a few days, but when you are on-call at weekends too, it can mean working 12 days in one run (Mon- Fri plus the weekend plus Mon-Fri the following week). If you worked that sort of shift length and run in any job, it would make you tired. You could make mistakes. Maybe overprice a customer, drop a box of expensive stock on the floor, use the wrong form to order some stationery. But in medicine? Make a mistake and you could be killing someone. My daughter has spoken of trying to calculate a prescription to give a patient based on so many mg per kg of bodyweight. She has said a simple calculation when you are tired is like thinking through mud.

So what is the strike about?
Jeremy Hunt wants a 24/7 NHS. They already have it. It's called A&E. If you are really sick or dying, weekday or weekend, day or night, A&E is open to receive you. Unfortunately it is much abused by people who cannot be bothered to go to their GP, do not have an arm hanging on by a mere thread and just need paracetamol. For all other (non- A&E) services, there is admittedly not a 24/7 service, but then you would need to recruit more doctors and the support staff of nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers etc etc) which the NHS cannot afford. Jeremy Hunt wants the existing doctors to cope with even more workload to cover this extra service. With the hours they already work, there is no capacity to add on more working hours, unless you expect your doctor to never get any sleep at all. Forget them having any hint of a  social life or seeing their families. If man and wife are both junior doctors they hardly see one another or their children at all.

Not professional?
People have been quick to accuse the doctors of abusing their position, saying they are privileged, they work in a profession and professions simply do not strike. It is a calling. But I would like to see any other profession that overworks anywhere near the same hours for such low pay.Most professions are appreciated and paid accordingly.  It is rather the doctors who are being abused because of their goodwill to carry on regardless.  The bosses know that the junior doctors will not walk away from a sick patient. Yes, they are striking and it may seem they don't care about the patients, but is because they care that they are striking. It is their only way of getting people to sit up and take notice of what they are going through.They cannot go on with the high demand in hours without the patients suffering. Even one fatal mistake made while the doctors are too tired, would be a mistake too many and the public would soon jump on the bandwagon to condemn a tired doctor's decision, if something went terribly wrong.

So next time you hear someone going on about the doctor's strike in a negative way, please remember this and put them right. Support the doctors rather than condemn them. If we are not careful, Jeremy Hunt will drive the NHS into the ground and where will we be then?


Valerie said...

I have full sympathy with the junior doctors. My grouse is with the local doctors' surgeries that can only offer six weeks appointments, thus forcing people to go to A&E for some kind of treatment/relief from whatever ails them. I recently lost my husband which meant lots of time spent in hospitals. The nursing staff were wonderful to him and me and deserve better consideration.

Pam said...

Indeed. Well said. (Six weeks appointments? What does that mean?)

Elizabeth said...

Go the junior doctors! I hope they can withstand media misinformation and win their case.

ADDY said...

Hi Pam - It is becoming increasingly difficult for some people to see their GP quickly,as the population continues to explode, as it has done in recent years. It is not unusual to have to wait a long time to see your GP and in some areas I suppose it can be as long as six weeks, by which time you are either cured anyway or dead!

Flowerpot said...

I am right behind the doctors and always have been. We are lucky with GP appointments here in Cornwall - I've never had to wait more than a few days at most.

Maggie May said...

I think everyone I know supports the doctors strike and I wish the government would listen.
I don't know where any of us would be without the commitment of the junior doctors and you must be proud of your daughter.
I personally don't know of any hostile people towards them.
Maggie x

nappy valley girl said...

Well said. As someone married to a senior doctor, who was not so long ago a junior, I agree with all of those points. It infuriates me when I hear Hunt speaking about the "7 day NHS" as it this is something easily achievable. There is no money for anything extra in the NHS at the moment, so there is no way they are going to be able to do this without making further cuts to doctors' salaries. Getting all the support staff into the hospital at the weekend will be very expensive, not to mention logistically difficult - eg. in London many of those people will be coming on public transport not available 24/7 or slow at weekends.