Ripping out the still beating heart of the NHS
I don’t normally comment on politics, on news, on things outside of my writing life in this blog. But I’ve decided to do something a little different today.
I am not a junior doctor. But I’m married to one.
Like most of the public, I didn’t know that much about doctors’ lives. My mum always wanted me to be one. She saw it as a good steady income, a caring profession, a prestigious job. And that’s what many of us see it as too.
Until I started dating a doctor.
I learnt things that I never knew about before. That junior doctors aren’t allowed to settle down. They are moved from hospital to hospital every year of their (often more than decade long) training. That junior doctors not only pay for their own exams (and yes, that means if they fail it, they pay for the whole thing again), but also for any study courses or other training courses they might want to do. That junior doctors will be on-call for twelve hours at time, but in reality if it’s busy, they will stay because you can’t drop a scalpel mid-operation and hit save. That the medical profession trains doctors to be super competitive and do research, audits and poster presentations in their evenings and weekends in order to further the profession and make their CVs more outstanding. That junior doctors has a responsibility to train up medical students, other junior doctors and also find time to get trained themselves. This can mean making a presentation in their free time, reading journals or going in on their day off to get trained from a particular consultant.
But whilst I stood, incredulously and questioning my husband over and over again- but why– I realised another thing.
Junior doctors don’t mind all this. They knew the profession was going to be hard. They want to be the best doctors they can be and help their colleagues be better too. They have accepted that they will never be able to do a weekly activity, that they will miss friends’ weddings and birthdays, that they will miss a lot of their own children’s lives growing up. They have come to terms with all of this because they are fundamentally nice people. They want to help people.
I have complained many a time to my husband about feeling lonely and that he works to hard. I’ve heard other spouses call themselves “medical widows”. I whinge about doing the lion share of the housework and having to sleep alone at night. But when he calls the hospital on his day off to check up on someone, or gets a thank you card, I know that I can’t complain. That I love him because he is this kind of person. That I wouldn’t want it any other way.
So on Thursday, when Jeremy Hunt imposed the contracts, I just wanted to scream. All of the spinning to make it appear about money. To make him look like he cares about the patients. How much do MPs earn? Has he work three 12 hours shifts in a row? Has he worked all through the weekend? Has he had to make decisions about people’s lives in minutes, pulled out their crying babies, reassured the mums, dealt with the miscarriages, been shouted at in the corridor all without time for a lunch break or even a toilet break.
But what bothered me more is his attempt to turn us against each other. As if the other professionals in the NHS will be jealous because doctors earn more. Honestly? I wouldn’t take the money if I had to make some of the decisions my husband makes. But what we have in common, is our empathy and wanting a job that helps others. That’s what nurses, midwives, OTs, physios, speechies all of us who work here in our NHS have in common. We are in the profession of caring.
And we aren’t stupid. We know he’s coming for us next.
The Tories want to privatise the NHS.
They are too cowardly to say it outright. No, that would be too sensible. If we came out and had a debate, looked at the research and compared the models’ of other countries to see the various advantages and disadvantages. Instead, under the guise of caring, they are making it impossible for the NHS to function. Alongside this junior doctor contract issue, they have cut funding to nursing students (who work proper shifts during the degree making it practically impossible to do part-time work like most other students). They are cutting all NHS funded university places (nursing, midwifery and allied health professional). They are cutting the pharmacy budget. Oh yeah and the highly skilled overseas staff that fill many of these roles? Well they will be asked to leave if they don’t earn over 35k.
I look at the people I know. Every single person in the NHS does more hours than they are paid for. They give above and beyond because they care about people. Most could get better pay and less hours if they went private. But they stay because we serve the people who need it the most. I look at us and I wonder if the Tories even know what we are. Are we another species to them?
And that’s just the thing. The people we serve, the patients who need it the most, are going to suffer. The vicious cycle of poverty and social deprivation will become deeper. We are already struggling to engage with some families but do this and all we’ll ever see of some people is at A&E when it’s all far far too late.
Fully private healthcare is a moral grey area. Intervention, medication and therapy is often overemphasized because it’s a business rather than what’s best for the person. Where are the checks against unscrupulous professionals? Preventative healthcare is not promoted because why would we want people to stay healthy? It turns away business.
It’s the most awful dystopia I can imagine, happening now, in our lifetimes.
I’ve always been proud of my country. We have our problems but we are a caring nation. We look after our sick, our old, our poor. Now it looks like we are stepping back into medieval times.
It’s breaking my heart.