The ambulance never came.

Indisputably, life is complicated. However we are increasingly ill-prepared to receive and process complex ideas and problems. The challenges facing the NHS are multifaceted, intricate and blown up to a national scale. The campaign to raise awareness of the damage being down to the health service is often waylaid by an inability to crystallise our concerns into a single message that can penetrate through the spin and lies. Worse, the constant back and forth of statistics and numbers both fatigues the general public and dehumanises the subject matter.

The past few weeks have seen the NHS at a level of crisis like no other in its history. Colleagues across the country are reporting conditions no developed industrial country should ever tolerate in their hospitals.

At this point I would normally bring forth statistics illustrating this disaster: waiting times, trolley waits, operations cancelled, ambulance queues. We’ve all tried that. It’s not working.

So, for a moment, let me simply tell you a story.

You are busy back at work after the New Year, trudging through the piled paperwork eclipsing your desk, when you get a phone call.

It’s your grandmother- she doesn’t feel well. She tells you she has chest pains. Concerned you tell her to call an ambulance straight away. It takes some convincing, but she eventually agrees.

She’s a tough elderly lady, never one to complain. She hangs up the phone and duly dials the ambulance.

You wait a few minutes and then phone her back. She tells you she called and they are on their way. Relieved you tell her to take the mobile you left her, and make sure it’s switched on. You make arrangements to leave work early to get out and see her.

An hour passes. Not hearing anything you phone back on the mobile. It bounces to voicemail. Concerned, you call back the landline. Your grandmother picks up: she’s still at home, waiting. The pain is still there. Maybe a bit more than a twinge. She feels a little sick, couldn’t manage lunch at all. You start to panic a bit, trying to see if there is anyone who can get there to take her directly sooner. You are two hours away. You hang up and dial her GP, not really sure what to do. You end up on hold waiting for a receptionist who eventually tells you to call 999. You try to call 999 but they can only tell you an ambulance is on the way. You hang up and dial again, tell her you’re on your way. She tells you not to fuss but you’re already in the taxi heading to the train station.

You try her landline again before you get on the tube: it’s been nearly two hours now and still no ambulance. You tell her to call 999 again. She says okay. She sounds weak.

The tube journey is the longest and worst of your life. Every extra delay is torture.

You get to the overground station and try her mobile again. No answer. The landline rings and rings. You dial and re dial frantically. There’s no answer. It’s been nearly 3 hours since her call. Sick with worry you bundle onto the train, desperately dialling 999, the police, an old neighbour, anyone you can think will be able to get there sooner. No one can. The train sweeps into the country wrenching your soul as you will it to go faster.

You jump in a taxi at the other end, stuff a twenty into the drivers hand and tell them to get you there as fast as humanly possible. There’s no answer on any line. The taxi driver weaves through traffic and bus lanes and jumps an orange light, screeching to a halt outside your grandmother’s house, just as an ambulance pulls up. It’s been three hours 46 minutes exactly.

Frustrated and driven mad with worry you shout and scream at the crew, who look exhausted and defeated but run up to the door and knock frantically. In the end the door is kicked in by the police. But it’s too late. You find your grandmother sitting on her favourite chair, slumped, ashen, and far too still.

It’s too late.

I work in a heart attack centre. We have strict national targets for patients having acute heart attacks- 90 minutes from arrival to a life-saving procedure to open a blocked heart vessel. We do this because we know every precious minute we wait means more damage to the heart, more risk of heart failure and death. We often get in there a lot sooner- from the moment a patient arrives at the front door a whole cardiac team is waiting for them: doctor, specialist heart nurse, radiographer and specialist cardiac physiologist. While we hear the handover we ultrasound scan the heart, take electrical tracings, blood tests, give blood thinning medication and tubes for giving fluid, examine and explain the procedure and consent the patient. At a clip this whole process takes just five minutes. We then whip the patient into our procedure room, prep the instruments and special tubes we use to access the heart, sterilise the area, hook the patient up to a monitor and blood pressure cuff, give specialist medications and then insert a needle into their wrist, then a sheath then a tube which we thread all the way into the three arteries around the heart. We take x-rays to see where we are going as we inject dye. We then thread a balloon down the tube and inflate it inside the blockage. We put a stent in to keep it open and then we relax.

On good days the patient feels better, the chest pain is gone, the artery is open. A life is saved. The clock says just 50 minutes have passed. We get them a cup of tea.

We do this several times a day, every day, day and night. The system works and it works well. It just needs the resources to run it.

For Marie Norris, the 81-year old lady who died this week 3 hours 46 minutes after calling an ambulance with chest pains we were too late. For her and dozens more, the ambulance never came.

This has been the worst winter in NHS history and we aren’t even at the halfway point yet. It comes at a time when the NHS has never had less resources for its population, never been more understaffed. If the stats and figures and endless spin don’t connect with you, think of this happening to your own grandmother. To you. Is that the country you want? Is that a government you would vote for?

Think about that.

We appreciate your thanks and support, but what NHS staff really want is to be able to do our jobs, to not have to face families who’ve been let down by the system. To not have to explain their loved one died because we couldn’t do enough, because we didn’t have the time or funds or staff. Don’t give us your thoughts and prayers, give us your action, your vote, your demonstrations. Whatever it takes.

Give us, and give yourselves, a chance. A chance more than Marie had.

Juniordoctorblog.com

 

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Dear (brand new) Doctor…

To all the new doctors,
First and foremost, I think I speak for our profession, junior and senior, when I say, Welcome.
Tomorrow will be your first day as a doctor. A day you have probably thought about for a decade or more, but perhaps could never quite imagine. 

From Hippocrates to Osler, Galen to Gawande, every medic of every age had a “first day”. Be careful with the advice you listen to, there are as many ways to be a doctor as there are doctors. This is my advice, please feel free to take it or leave it.
1.Looking after humans is a messy business, literally and figuratively. Know where the scrubs are kept. Don’t wear shoes you can’t afford to throw away.

2. There’s always time for lunch. Your stomach won’t thank you for ignoring it, but worse, your patients won’t either. Irritable doctors make crappy decisions. 

3. Look after your back. Sit down to cannulate or bring the bed up so you don’t have to. Your fifty year old self will thank you.

4. Be nice to your fellow F1s. They will be the closest colleagues and friends you will make in your career. You will go to their weddings and hold their newborn babies. Like soldiers on the battlefield you will be bonded for life. 

 5. Be nice to everyone else too- even when others don’t reciprocate. You never know when you’ll need their help. Successful medicine is sometimes about who you know as much as what you know. Learn to know when you should bite your tongue.

 6. And when not to. Ultimately the patient is your only priority. If you need to voice a concern, do so, loudly, coherently and without anger, to whoever, however high up, that you need to. 

 7. Don’t drink too much, if you do. It’s easy to let one glass become two, become three. Don’t drink your stress, find better ways to deal with it. 

 8. Learning from your own mistakes is mandatory. The price of a mistake is high, you must do everything you can to recoup that cost. Better still, learn everything you can about other doctor’s mistakes, so you don’t repeat them.

 9. Find what you’re scared of, and run towards it. I was terrified of cardiac arrests so I used to run to every single one. Now I’m a cardiology registrar. Life is funny like that.

10. If you’re not sure about a drug dose, look it up.

11. Look up anything else too. Google diagnoses when you’re not sure. Don’t be dismayed, your seniors do this all the time, probably more than you. Knowing what you’re talking about is much more important than merely looking like you do.

12. Find a toilet that no one else uses. Trust me on this.

13. Take all your leave. Go on holiday. 

14. Recognise you made a choice to be a doctor, take pride in and be empowered by that choice.

15. But also recognise when you see a patient they didn’t get a choice, and they didn’t choose you as their doctor. You have a responsibility to be the best doctor you can be in that moment, because that patient doesn’t get to choose anyone else.

16. Keep your moving boxes- you’ll need them again.

17. Understand you work at a nexus point in a patient’s life. Patients come in going one way in life, but oft-times leave going somewhere completely different. Sometimes, sadly, nowhere at all. That enormity of exposure to Life can take it’s toll.

18. Talk about it. Cry about it. Commiserate with your colleagues, support and celebrate with them too. Deal with your emotions fully, or they will overwhelm you.

19. Try your best, always.

Feel free to heed or ignore any of the above. Add your own pearls as you find them.
Tomorrow is your first day, doctors, and truly the first day of the rest of your life.

It is genuinely the most wonderful job.

Good luck. You will be brilliant.
Juniordoctorblog.com

“Your Life In My Hands” by Rachel Clarke. A juniordoctorblog.com review

“The unexamined life is not worth living”
Socrates

 

There’s an inextricable link between medicine and books. To a medical student books are both stepping stones and obstacles, huge tomes to surmount as much to absorb. Later, they become totems, a copy of the ubiquitous Oxford Handbook of Medicine, colloquially known as the “Cheese and Onion”, jammed into a scrub back pocket to ward off disaster and protect us from our own insecurities and our patients from our inexperience. Later still, books become mirrors, reflections that let us examine our own careers and lives.

Reading the rather wonderful “Your Life In My Hands” by Dr Rachel Clarke leads to it’s own examination. Dr Clarke writes with a prose that is both immediate and personable, dumping you straight behind the eyes of an NHS junior doctor, bursting bladders, blood-soaked scrubs, desperate tears and all. This book is a portal into our hospitals, coming at a time when it’s never been more important to be able to share the actual reality of the NHS frontline.

Full disclosure: I’ve met Rachel Clarke. We swam in similar circles during the junior doctor contract dispute. When she and Dr Dagan Lonsdale kicked off the 24-hour protest TimeToTalkJeremy, outside the Department of Health, I was working just up the road and went down to show solidarity. Unflappable, sincere, ever-smiling; she was hugely inspiring and extremely nice. A few days later I was sitting in the same chair.

Before this book landed on my doormat, I knew Dr Clarke was a great writer and a shining example of our profession. It was the parts that I didn’t know that made this book so surprisingly brilliant. Besides doctoring, her semi auto-biography takes the reader through her past life as a TV journalist, dodging bullets in the Congo, filming experimental deep-freeze neurosurgery in the US, casually bantering with Alastair Campbell and Prime Ministers. Weaved throughout this rich tapestry of past and present, Dr Clarke paints the powerful and undeniable picture of an NHS being failed through short-sighted politicking and chronic underfunding.

For me, reading this book forced me to re-examine my own career. Her descriptions are achingly accurate: of the crash-calls, the dark quiet moments with a dying patient’s family, the highs of a shot-in-the-dark diagnosis or a surprise success where it seemed impossible and the lows of the true tragedies, dealing with the pieces left behind. I have been there in every one. We all have. And now you have too.

And that is the true beauty of “Your Life In My Hands” – it brings to life with dazzling perspicuity, not a unique experience, but a ubiquitous one. This is a junior doctor’s life, as damn near as you can get without living it yourself. And even if you have, it’s worth reading for the mirror it holds back. I left medicine after the burnout of the junior doctors contract dispute, and then, like Dr Clarke, rediscovered my love for it again. Reading this book made me remember exactly why.

The NHS is consistently the number two top issue of concern in UK opinion polls. A “political football” to some, often those campaigning for it are accused of “weaponizing” the subject. The true power behind this book is Dr Clarke’s ability to humanise it. The irony of “Your Life In My Hands” is in it’s title, because once you’ve bought this book, you are holding a life in your hands. Once you’ve read it and experienced it, you will see the NHS one hopes, as we see it. And then, as Dr Clarke masterfully surmises, you will realise that the future of the NHS is not in our hands, but yours.

juniordoctorblog.com

Your Life In My Hands by Rachel Clarke is out now.

 

Dear Other Normal Human Beings

I am writing to you, because, like myself, you are a normal human being.

You, like me, wake up in the morning and sleep at night, eat meals, sometimes with loved ones, sometimes alone. We are alike in our requirement for other people, for happiness, for security, for food, for warmth, for shelter.

You may have children, you may have brothers or sisters. You have, or had, parents, and perhaps were lucky enough to know your grandparents.

You may have noticed that many health professionals were becoming uncharacteristically vocal, leading up to the General Election. You may have thought them self-serving, morally bankrupt individuals, upset over their own pay packets.

I would like to explain to you, from one normal human being to another, what is going on.

I am a doctor. I decided to be a doctor before I really knew what decisions were, and can never remember wanting to do anything else. Once I knew how, I found the path, and worked my arse off. Six years, in secondary school, studying. Two years, in college, studying. I took four A-levels, I had 25% less free time than my friends, and when they were out, doing whatever they wanted, I was not. I was studying. Another six years at medical school, studying, and sometimes working to pay for the studying. The last three years of medical school I worked harder than I ever had, and the same hours as a full-time professional, sometimes way more. It even made me sick- in my final year I developed acute gastrointestinal bleeding. But, becoming a doctor was all that meant anything to me. So, I took my top grades and turned them in, in return I got fourteen years hard graft, and £50,000 worth of debt. [2]

Why is this important? Because, from the very beginning, I knew about sacrifices. As thousands of my colleagues have, as millions before me have, and millions will. I knew about sacrifice when I worked for a year before university, so I could afford the rent, when I missed my first family Christmas to work as a warden in student halls, so I could afford to stay at medical school. I knew about sacrifice when I missed nearly every other Christmas since, working, or sometimes studying. I knew about sacrifice when I’ve missed my friends weddings, my nieces and nephews birthdays, when everyone I knew was travelling, and I was studying, or working. Being a doctor, and it’s inherent position in society and in the hearts of the public, is irrevocably tied to sacrifice- it’s the dedication it takes to become, and to stay, a doctor, that by definition requires sacrifices to time, to personal satisfaction. All over the country right now, doctors and nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, radiographers and ward clerks and all the other medical professionals are sacrificing their lives, minute by minute, to try to give you or your loved ones minutes, hours, days or years more. So, when, as a normal person, someone tells you doctors don’t understand ‘vocation’, you know now- it is beat into us before we even get through the door.

But, as a normal person, of course you understand why doctors would defend the NHS, would fight to protect it, and so vociferously attack it’s detractors. They have a vested interest, they want to keep their cushy salaries and great jobs, and the NHS is great for that.

Let me tell you straight: if I didn’t care about you, or my patients, I would be out there campaigning to close the NHS right now. I would make more money in the private sector in a  day than I would in two weeks of NHS work. I could also take my UK Medical degree, one of the most respected qualifications anywhere in the world, and go and earn 50-200% more in the US, Australia, New Zealand [3]. In the private sector, if I stayed after 5pm to look after you, the next thing you see after my smiling face as you exit the hospital, will be the bill on the doormat; ‘overtime’, ‘time in lieu’, ‘additional hours rates’ aplenty.

But, I, like you, have a family. I went to state school, and worked and grafted to pay for my six years at University. Without the NHS my grandmother would have gone blind, my father would have had several heart attacks, my mother would have died. I might have died. A private system would’ve bankrupted them, ended their hopes for a better future in order to pay to survive. I, like you, would do anything for the ones I love, and that is why I campaign to protect and improve the NHS. And that is why, when 5pm comes and goes, as does 6pm, 7pm and all the other hours in between, I, and every colleague I have ever worked with, stays for their sick patient. Because, one day, somewhere, for someone else, that patient will be their mum, or dad, wife or husband, son or daughter.

We have had, and always have had, the extraordinary privilege of one the greatest healthcare systems, pound-for-pound, in the world. The reasons for it’s great outcomes and low cost are debatable. But there are some reasons we never mention. This country has a medical school system of international renown, whose doctors, for the most part, qualify and stay exclusively working within the NHS. The staff of the NHS gives untold free hours to the profession; when I was a first-year junior doctor, I calculated I worked one day at work for £4.10 an hour. I used to get paid more at Tescos. But a very sick patient needed a lot of complex care, and so I stayed, and helped, and he survived: as millions of patients have since 1948. [4]

The moves of the current government against the medical profession are calculated: to deride working conditions, salaries, hours and deplete hospital resources, until a normal person, like myself, buckles under the social, financial and emotional cost. At that point, a sea-change of new, private hospitals will open, and we will go and work there. And our lives will be pretty much the same- different bosses, the same bureaucracy and probably better pay. But our lives, as normal people, will not. You will still pay taxes, a stripped-down NHS will persist, for no frills, emergency care only, but not for all the other healthcare needs of a 21st century population: you will need private healthcare. And that healthcare insurance will cost you hundreds of pounds a year, if not a month. And if you don’t have insurance, you will spend thousands of pounds on the simplest, quickest procedure [5]. And the NHS won’t be there for my family, or the families of normal people across the country.

So, I want this to reach as many normal people as it can. If you don’t act now, it will be too late. It might already be too late.

We care deeply because we can see the great good the NHS does, every single day. And I care because, like you, I care about the ones I love.

Where can you start?

June the 8th, 2017

At the polling booth,

Yours sincerely,

juniordoctorblog.com

[PART 2: A Factual Appendix]

-What normal people appreciate, are hard, solid, unflinching, facts. So here they are.

[2] Medical students studying now can now expect to pay £9000 pay a year as of 2015 for six years for most courses: that is £54,000. Most will require a student loan to pay living expenses for a full time course, at a further £5000 a year that totals £79,000 for six years study. Maintenance grants for the poorest students have been scrapped, adding an additional £10,000 debt as a minimum.

[3] Starting pay for any consultant in the UK : £75, 249. In the US: £111,799.80 for internal medicine, £183,152.91 for a radiologist. ($/GBP rate correct at time of writing). In Australia: a basic salary of £78,000 for internal medicine consultants, BUT this is for a 38 hour working week. Average overtime and up-scale pay between £92,526.97- £244,366.10.  Same with New Zealand for a 40-hour week, after average overtime and up-scale up to £128,039.69.

UK data: http://bma.org.uk/practical-support-at-work/pay-fees-allowances/pay-scales/consultants-england
US data: http://www.payscale.com/research/US/People_with_Jobs_as_Physicians_%2F_Doctors/Salary.
Australian data: http://www.imrmedical.com/australia-salaries-tax
New Zealand data: http://www.imrmedical.com/new-zealand-salaries-tax

[4] The NHS opened it’s doors, metaphorically, July 5th 1948. It’s first patient was a 12-year old girl with a liver condition. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Geo6/11-12/29

[5] This is incredibly interesting reading, although it is for claims, it is still very reflective of the actual cost. https://www.freedomhealthinsurance.co.uk/downloads/your-choice-procedure-payment-guide

Is being a doctor just a job?

You hear this phrase a lot; being a doctor is “just a job”, but funnily enough in widely different contexts. On the one hand, the “higher calling” of medicine is derided by some, who insist it’s “just a job” like any other. On the other, doctors under extreme pressure need to know sometimes that their work is “a job”, it should stay compartmentalised and allow them a life outside the hospital or surgery, to balance their own mental health against their working lives. 

Which is it?
I don’t think anyone who has working in any emergency setting with human beings would accept the derogatory label of “just a job”, whether that job is doctor, nurse, physiotherapist, pharmacist, fireman, policeman, or paramedic. The normal course of a human life is long periods of normality and stability, punctuated by “Life” with a capital L; births, deaths, marriages, divorces, comedy and tragedy. There’s only so much of that a human mind can take, few of us can stand constant turmoil and upheaval. That’s why the mental health of those in extreme situations suffers: refugees, long-term domestic abuse, and homelessness amongst others. 

Being in an emergency job such as medicine means you are party to a constant stream of Life events: births, deaths, monumental illnesses. All the things that intrude into our bubble of stability to rudely remind us of what we already know but wilfully forget: life is random, and hard, and cruel, and important, and wonderful. 

So medicine isn’t “just a job” in that sense: it’s an enormous privilege to bear witness and to help human beings through the hardest and most real times in their lives. 

But if you let that tragedy in too much, you expose too much of yourself to that constant stream of suffering, you run the risk of your own mental health, exceeding your mind’s capacity to process capital L Life events.

That’s why it’s important to know in a positive sense that medicine is “just a job” too.

Knowing it’s “just a job” means you know you can walk away, which validates and empowers that unconscious choice to walk back in again. 

We all chose to do something important with our lives, but we should all recognise that that was a “choice”, and take heart in that. 

We should always recognise that we chose to help others, and that no one has an infinite individual capacity to do so; that’s why we work in teams, that’s why we do go home, that’s why we should remember to look after ourselves so we can look after others properly.

So yes, medicine is “just a job”; you have the freedom to walk away at any time, and, I hope, be empowered to choose to come back again. It’s a job, yes, but it’s a job like few others; it’s an enormous privilege and it is honestly one of the best jobs in the world.
juniordoctorblog.com

The NHS underfunding is a choice. And people are dying. [video]

It’s really hard to capture and keep even the most interested and motivated persons attention long enough to explain how and why the NHS is being underfunded and the truly catastrophic impact of this.

This rather excellent video series does this perfectly. 

Share and RT, write to your MP. It’s your choice too; stand by and let the NHS die, or do something about it. 

This is everything wrong with Jeremy Hunt’s tenure as Health Secretary

Yesterday in the Mail Hunt made at least two completely bogus claims;
1. He ‘won’ the judicial review into imposition and gained High Court backing for the junior contract

2. Post Brexit he is going to remove foreign doctors and replace them with ‘homegrown’ trainees 

There’s been enough of heated opinion lately- so let’s just serve cold hard facts.
1. The Justice 4 Health team took Hunt to court on three premises- that a) he does not have power to impose the contract b) that he acted without clarity and transparency and c) he acted irrationally. Despite a lot of press spin saying Hunt won, he actually just dodged the issue, by claiming that he never imposed and ‘no junior doctor’ thought that he was. As in last week’s blog here is the many instances that Hunt said he was. 

The case pushed Hunt to clarify in law that he isn’t imposing the contract, simply passing the buck to local hospitals. The judge also found he could’ve acted with less ambiguity but found it hard to demonstrate the high legal threshold for irrationality.

So far from ‘winning the case’, Hunt was forced back from claiming falsely he was imposing leaving local negotiations with hospitals now a real possibility.

Secondly, Hunt’s plan to replace foreign doctors with ‘homegrown’ talent is as laughable as it is xenophobic.
We are already in the midst of a workforce crisis- applications to medical school dropped 13.5% in the last 5 years, and increasing numbers of junior doctors are leaving training and the country. On top of this, the existing doctor workforce increasingly cover the work of two or more doctors- 7 in 10 doctors work in departments where at least one doctor is missing, 2/5 of consultant posts are unfilled, and 96% of doctors work in wards with nurse shortages. 
To add insult to injury, health education England, the body that funds training of so-called ‘homegrown’ talent, has had its budget slashed by £1 billion next year– all on Hunt’s watch.

Now around 25% of the doctor workforce are non-UK, and 10-15% of all NHS staff. 

We are well below the European average in hospital beds per person and doctors per person in the NHS as we are- yet Jeremy Hunt plans to push away up to a quarter of the workforce, cut the training budget to train less doctors who are already doing two or more doctors work, and make no plans to actually address the drop in ‘homegrown’ talent already, a direct repercussion of Hunt’s own morale plummeting war against the profession. 
Those are the facts. Unfortunately if you read the Mail comments you will see why Hunt would ignore them; there’s a segment of the populace that laps up this anti-immigrant posturing, even if it’s completely insane as an actual plan. 

This is everything wrong with Hunts tenure as Health Secretary- politics before policy before patients. The NHS will only continue to suffer if it goes unchallenged. 
Juniordoctorblog.com

Junior doctors are left with few options, none good. What now?

Today the independent judicial review into the junior doctor contract imposition legality, put forth by the five junior doctors who make up Justice 4 Health, closed.

Justice Greene found in favour of the government, upholding their peculiar defence that Jeremy Hunt never actually imposed a contract, leaving it up to local hospitals to decide if they want the new contract or not. This, despite the fact that Jeremy Hunt has repeatedly hit the ‘nuclear button’ of imposition in TV interviews, parliament and speeches. Here is a quick video with some obvious examples;

As ludicrous as it seems, legally we have told all of this was an ‘irrelevance’ and although the judge suggested Jeremy Hunt could’ve been less ‘ambiguous’, the High Court rules that the contract was never imposed in the first place. News to 54,000 doctors, and no doubt many patients who were adversely affected by strike action against imposition. This final legal clarity prompted the question; if Jeremy isn’t imposing, who is? Well it would seem hospital trusts are imposing , and therefore can we now negotiate directly with them?

NHS Providers quickly tweeted to crush this speculation – they want a nationally agreed contract, and suggest there will be no local negotiations.

This of course follows in the same week that the BMA JDC have decided to suspend further strikes, and instead are now calling a symposium to which they have extended Jeremy Hunt an invite- whether he will turn up or not remains to be seen. Seeing as how he hasn’t turned up  to any of SEVEN crisis meetings in the last year at his OWN organisation I’m not holding my breath.

So junior doctors are left with few options. None of them good.

The first question is – do you accept the contract or not?

 

If doctors accept working under this contract, that still disadvantages women and LTFT workers and still is worryingly untested, then they must actively engage to make it work. This means forming local doctor forum, helping develop easy apps to exception report and challenging behaviour anywhere in the hospital that doesn’t meet the terms of this contract. If things go south, as these early rotas from obstetrics and gynaecology and emergency medicine anecdotally suggest, doctors must be vocal, and the BMA must back it’s members, although their powers may be severely limited.

If you don’t accept thev contract;

You essentially have few options. A lot will depend on how well organised doctors are from this point forward – with the BMA in full retreat this seems unlikely.

  1. Leave training – the imposition of the new contract is for trainees – going out of programme, into locum work, into research, or even abroad will mean you continue working as a doctor, but you aren’t subject to the terms of the imposed contract. For those at the end of training, finishing up and then moving abroad is a sensible option.
  2. Try to negotiate locally- whether individually or en masse doctors could offer to stay on the current contract, or organise a mass resignation against rota and contract conditions. Despite the bluster of NHS Providers it seems unlikely that hospitals will force a new, ‘cost-neutral’ contract at the expense of all their doctors. That is contingent of course on Health Education England, the training body of doctors, not imposing the contract by the back door and pulling funding for trainees who do not comply with the new contract.
  3. Offer your own contract. This isn’t as mad as it sounds – making a counter offer is a standard employment arrangement in most industries, just unheard of in the NHS. A contract that doesn’t discriminate against women, pays for study and has fair and safe rota arrangements isn’t too much to ask. But it seems unlikely.
  4. Bide your time. The contract is scheduled for review in 2018 – rumour has it Jeremy Hunt will be gone by then, and this may no longer be such a contentious political issue. With sufficient evidence of poor patient care and unsafe rotas, a renegotiation may be viable.

However, consider the context of the NHS. Over the past three years by every indicator the NHS has fallen into decline – waiting times, deficits, and now even hospital department closures, due to lack of staff. A new Autumn Statement might bring more money to the NHS, but having been through it’s most austere decade in it’s history, it’s even-odds whether there will even be an NHS at all come 2020.

For me, I left full-time training in August and have no plans to return. This contract dispute highlighted a multitude of problems with training to start with – but the utter contempt our NHS leaders, our government and their solicitors, and even some of our own seniors have held their trainees in appalls me. It has become a toxic environment for training and working. As a flexible worker I feel appreciated and needed, train and study when I need to, and most importantly, see and look after my family.

It’s up to the individual doctor what they do from here. If you can live with the contract, live with it. If you can’t, then find some way to find someplace you can. I fear too many will find that place outside of the NHS. With a collapsing union, a rejected judicial challenge, a toxic training environment and a complete lack of political will to shore up the health system, can you blame them?

 

juniordoctorblog.com

 

 

Diary of an NHS Patient – 2017

2nd January 2017
New year, new diary! Just moved to our forever-family home. Nice area, good primary just round the corner for Charlie and we are only twenty minutes from Dave’s work. Only issue is they just ‘downgraded’ our local A&E– but I’m not worried, although Dave thinks I’m a hypochondriac! GP is local and there’s a big hospital a short drive away. Anyway, back to unpacking!

3rd March 2017
Finally got round to signing us all up at the GP- it’s such a faff. They wanted to see all our passports, and could only sign us up between 1-2pm on Wednesday. Who can manage that? Charlie had a cough for a few weeks so that finally pushed us to join. Waiting time bit long though- two weeks! Oh well. He’s fine.

10th April 2017
Still haven’t got an appointment for the GP! Charlie is looking a bit peaky- it’s been too long now. Phoned up for emergency appointments but the GP never has a free slot. I heard from Linda next door they might have to close- can’t maintain the practice on the funding they’ve got. Never mind. Plenty of other NHS GPs around. Even had a leaflet for a private GP through the door today- £40 an appointment. Bit steep. But booked one anyway. Dave didn’t mind.

17th April 2017
The private GP seemed very nice- referred Charlie for lots of tests though. Dave is worried- he thinks it’s a scam. I don’t. I saw the GPs face- he thinks Charlie is really sick. He asked us if we wanted to stay with the NHS- is that really a thing now? I don’t think we can afford any more private tests. He’s sending us to our local NHS children’s department.

24th May 2017
Waiting for an appointment is agonising. Lost our nerve tonight when Dave thought Charlie coughed up some blood. Everyone was a bit flustered so we went to local children’s A&E- except it was closed. Lack of staff. What the hell does that mean? I’ve never heard of a hospital being ‘closed’. What do we pay our taxes for if not the NHS? We got redirected to another hospital, had a minor divorce-level fight outside the A&E and then decided just to take Charlie home. Our appointment is next week anyway.

1st June 2017
Charlie has cystic fibrosis. I’ve spent hundreds of hours looking all over the Internet and everywhere about it. The specialist at the hospital was very nice- but we were still all in tears. We have another appointment next week. It’s still settling in- my child will always be unwell. I don’t know how to handle this. We tried to see the NHS GP this week- just to touch base. They’ve closed for good. I went back to the private GP for an appointment- looked a lot busier. Had to wait a few days this time. Saw a different GP for £50 this time. Wasn’t very helpful. What a waste of money.

10th Oct 2017
Charlie is managing on his inhalers and things. The NHS department at hospital is great- we have the mobile of Sandra, the nurse specialist for Charlie and any problems just call her up. Heard some mutterings about closing the hospital, ‘centralising’ services. Sounds like a good idea, but Sandra reckons many services like theirs will be cut in the reshuffle. Off the record she said the hospital might close entirely. I left pretty frightened, imagining losing such a lifeline for us. Wrote to my MP when I got back. Why are all the NHS services shutting down?

2nd Dec 2017
Sandra called- they are being moved to another hospital, and their service halved. More ‘efficiency savings‘. She’s not covering anymore- it’ll be a duty nurse system now. I did the maths- our local specialist children’s hospital is now forty miles away. Just shy of 45 minutes by car. What we will do in an emergency? Dave is starting to get chest pains when he’s carrying Charlie up the stairs. We can’t afford to go back to the local private GP right now, the next closest NHS GP isn’t accepting new patients. Just ignoring it now, and hoping.

5th Jan 2018
More leaflets through the door- private health insurance companies offering discounts. Our local NHS hospital has just been taken over by a private firm. Me and Dave had a huge row, and then decided to look into private health insurance. We both believed in the NHS, but it’s clear that it’s not going to survive unless the government step in.  Plus Dave is self-employed and so am I- might be a bit trickier. We will struggle through.

20th March 2018
Got insured with Health Co. – few others in the street did the same. Quite steep for me and Dave – lots of cancer stuff on both sides of our family, plus we both run our own businesses. Dave went to  an appointment on the very next day- Health Co. GP sent him straight to the heart doctor at the private hospital. Long story short- Dave needs a stent in his heart- not a heart attack, but pretty close according to the doctors. Thank god we got the insurance when we did. Charlie has been good.

1st April 2018
Dave had his heart op today- says he’s feeling much better. Stayed in a nice room in the Health Co. ward- had to pay an excess though, £500. A lot more than we could afford. Really weird feeling as a 1970s child having to worry about money and healthcare in the UK. Anyway- no worries. Everyone’s at home and everyone’s well.

9th April 2018
Health Co. sent us a huge bill today. They say Dave isn’t covered for his op, because he had pre-existing symptoms. Altogether they want nearly £9,000. We were aghast. We tried contacting the NHS hospital to see if they would cover us – we still pay taxes. An hour of ringing got me to a stressed sounding secretary who just laughed in my face. We tried to move back to cardiology at our local NHS hospital- but they don’t do outpatients anymore. Have to raid the savings, probably add a bit to the mortgage too. Need to get the hang of this insurance business better.

15th June 2018
Charlie is sick again – looks like his cystic fibrosis. Went to a great Health Co. GP who wanted to send us to the Health Co. hospital. The hospital wanted to know is Charlie insured. We thought he was- – the hospital says not. An hour of furious tears on the phone turns out they are right- he was excluded because of his cystic fibrosis from a regular family policy. We could pay out of pocket, but the nice Health Co. GP said that might costs hundreds of thousands of pounds. We’d have to sell our house. So I called Sandra- she told us to drive to her NHS hospital, even though it’s an hour and half away. I never expected to be choosing between  money or my family’s health. How did this happen? Anyway, we drove to the ‘central’ children’s hospital – and they rushed Charlie to their high-dependency bay. He’s stable now. Dave and I can’t seem to talk to each other, every conversation turns into blaming the other for the insurance rubbish. Bad night for everyone.

17th June 2018
The NHS has really changed- much of the hospital is actually just private companies that have taken over different sections. I’m signing all sorts of documents about insurance and waivers and declining ‘optional’ extras. Whole wards of the NHS buildings are empty. It’s scary.  The NHS staff haven’t changed though- Charlie’s paediatric team are the same amazing, hard-working angels they’ve always been. Sandra has been in every day- she looks awful. I’ve never seen her so stressed. I caught her for five minutes to catch up and thank her- I asked her how’s work- and she started crying. Most of her colleagues have left the NHS side, she’s the last cystic fibrosis nurse left in the county for the ‘uninsured’. She gets heartbreaking phone calls like mine every five minutes. She has to turn many of them down. She can’t cope. Every month they get less funding and are told to be more ‘efficient’. She’s close to retirement she told me, so she said she was determined “to see it out”. Her career? I asked. No, she said, “the NHS”.

21st Aug 2018
Charlie is back at home. We did two months driving an hour and a half a day to be with him. We took it in shifts, so Dave and I haven’t really been in the same room for more than twenty minutes for 8 weeks. Our relationship is struggling, but at least Charlie is better. I managed to get him back on a Health Co. policy- but the costs are phenomenal. We had thought about a second baby, and if my business had done better maybe even a third. Now we will settle for Charlie. Health Co. gave us a card to show private ambulances to get to our local hospital. Our GP is private, all of Dave’s cardiology appointments are now private, at huge cost, but at least we are covered.

10th Jan 2019
Dave’s mum had a stroke. She’s 92 and the first we heard about it was a call from a care home telling us she can’t pay. We were shocked. She’d been sent to a ‘central‘ elderly care ward fifty miles away, and then sent back to a care home near Dave’s brother. Obviously Dave’s mum was still on the NHS. Apparently there is supposed to be free coverage for the elderly, but it doesn’t cover care costs. We went to the care home- it seemed nice enough. It’s all private though- the manager was a lovely man, who explained we basically had two options; sell Dave’s mum’s house, the house he grew up in, or move her to the NHS subsidised home a few towns away. We went to the NHS one- bit shocked by how run down it looked. Social care apparently has been cut just as hard as the NHS was– it’s all basically private now unless you can’t afford it. We are selling Dave’s mums house.

3rd May 2019
I found a breast lump today, in the shower. It felt like a hard rubbery knot, just under my right breast. Scared and anxious the first thing I did, still in my towel, was go to the Health Co. policy documents in my office. I read them three times over- trying not to linger on the ‘C’ word, but also making damn sure that if I go to the doctor now, we won’t lose our house. Only when I was sure did I go tell Dave. I felt sick watching his face as he felt it too. We booked into a private GP appointment- have to wait a week now, and still have to pay £60 excess.

30th May 2019
Had all our scans, tests, appointments, re-appointments. It’s a low grade breast cancer. Hasn’t spread- it’s an operation, then chemotherapy for a few years, then done. Sort of relieved, sort of mind-bogglingly terrified. All private staff, all the way through. Dave and Charlie have been very supportive. Hasn’t cost too much in excess payments etc. No holiday this year but let’s get some perspective. Op will be next week.

12th June 2019
Op went well, back at home on tablet chemotherapy. The doctor offered me radiotherapy as well- I thought that was a good idea. Booked in next week.

3rd August 2019
A bill arrived today. Another bill. I can’t cope with this. It’s for some aspects of my cancer treatment- apparently the company made an ‘error’, a lot of treatment was ‘extra-contractual’, bottom line; they won’t pay for it now. The CT scan that gave me the all-clear was ‘extra’, the radiotherapy treatment was ‘extra’, all of the nights in hospital with side effects were ‘extra’. The ‘extra’ cost is £192,000.
I keep looking at that number, wondering how it ever came to this.
My mum had cancer- she had a thyroid lump ten years ago. I went to all her appointments, in and out of NHS hospitals, specialists, scans, surgeons. She’s fine. And she never once paid a penny more than her taxes. What a different world we live in now.

5th November 2019
If I sell my stake in my accounting firm, Dave sells his business and goes back as an employee, and we sell our house and downsize we can just about make the payments without declaring bankruptcy. Charlie’s insurance is gonna hit us hard though.
I saw Sandra in the paper today- I spotted her face protesting in a crowd outside her NHS hospital. Shut down, no funds and not enough staff they say. I text her. She’s retiring now. She’s seen it out, and for her the NHS is over.
For the rest of us as well it seems.

3rd Jan 2020
I did some research. We were all told private companies came to ‘save’ the NHS, that healthcare was no longer ‘affordable’.
But compared to our neighbours the NHS didn’t cost very much- just under 8% of GDP in 2015, well below what Germany and France were spending. We were told that more money was being given to the NHS, but it never really was. Compared with demand the last ever decade of the NHS was also it’s most austere. 
Now we can just get by without the NHS- but only just, and we were fairly well off. I worry for those that aren’t. Every day I worry about the next treatment for Charlie or what if my cancer comes back? How will we afford the co-payments and excess charges?
Now the NHS is still around, but it’s gone in all but name. It’s for emergencies and the unemployed and poor only. Basic healthcare. I don’t pay any less tax- more money goes on my family’s hospital bills than ever before.

1st July 2020
A new government is about to be elected. I’m going to campaign hard for the NHS to return. Too many of us are suffering its loss. But no mainstream party has a realistic plan to restore it. It’s simply too late.

I’d wish I’d done something when I had the chance.

Juniordoctorblog.com

The NHS is Collapsing. Part 3: The collapse is a choice, not a necessity

It’s my job as a doctor to interpret trends and analyse hodgepodge information to predict an outcome. I look at the NHS and see a single direction of travel: collapse without rapid and drastic intervention.
In a series of posts we will look at exactly why and how this is happening. This is what I see- you can decide yourself what you see.

In the part 1 here, we looked at why the NHS budget must rise 3-4% per year just to stand still.

In part 2 here we saw exactly how this isn’t happening and the catastrophic effect it’s having on the National Health Service.

Now we examine why.


It’s clear the trend of rising demand and falling budget is not compatible with a sustainable health service, and after six years, the NHS is about to collapse. The question we have to ask is why would our leaders stand by and ignore, even exacerbate, the demise of the one of the safest, most efficient and equitable healthcare systems in the world?

Medicine is all about making choices: when you are faced with two courses of action, how do you decide which to take? What do I think the diagnosis is? What is the probability it is? What is the benefit of treatment? What is the risk if I don’t treat? What is the risk if I do? Standing by and allowing the collapse of the NHS is a choice, not a necessity.

The popular myth about the NHS, and the words certain elements are already chiselling into it’s tombstone, is that it is ‘inefficient’, ‘bloated’, ‘out-dated’, and we simply ‘cannot afford it anymore’.

The entirety of that belief is simply untrue. The NHS is ranked as one of the industrial world’s most efficient healthcare systems, and amongst the sleekest in terms of money spent/individual. Far from ‘out-dated’, NHS researchers and hospitals have pioneered some of the world’s greatest medical advances;  Tuberculosis treatments and the first successful kidney transplant*, we invented surgical robots and participated in the world’s first lab grown organ transplant. Most recently we are the first country in the world to vaccinate against Meningitis B.

So the real question is “Can we afford it?”. The short answer is Yes.

The long answer is more complex. Every pound spent on a public system is a choice; it is an ideological choice, a financial choice and a political choice. When the NHS was first created in 1948, the political and financial situation was dire: the UK debt was twice the size of the economy (214% GDP), and politically Nye Bevan faced extreme opposition, including, shamefully, from the professional body of doctors at the time. Here a difficult financial and political choice was trumped by an ideological one; the idea healthcare provision should be available to all. Flash forward to 2008 and the global economic crash required another financial choice; to bail out the banks – at a total potential cost to the UK economy at the time of £1.162 trillion, which meant UK debt doubled from 39% of the economy in 2008 to 84% in 2016. 

So the choice to fund the NHS today is actually three choices: political, financial and ideological.

Financially, if we compare 2016 to 1948 – our countries debt is a third of what it was when the NHS was created. Our international counterparts in similar financial circumstances have made a financial choice to spend more of their economy on healthcare. By 2020, that gap will be much more, and we will be spending amongst the lowest in Europe. And remember spending on healthcare isn’t an economic black hole – in areas such as public health every £1 spent to prevent disease saves as much as £5 on future health costs. More on this below.

Politically the NHS remains very well supported. It was even a part of the Olympic opening ceremony. However, the last government made a political choice to stake their reputation as leaders on reducing government spending, for no good financial or economic reason. Many economists and the IMF reject austerity as a means to increase growth in a country.

So what’s the issue?

It’s ideology. George Osbourne and Cameron believed in a small state, and that private competition is the most efficient means to achieve the best allocation of resources, a principle of economics that has no evidence base in healthcare. Despite politically promising no ‘top-down’ reorganisation of the NHS, in 2012 the largest ‘top-down’ reorganisation in the history of the NHS was pushed through in the guise of the Health and Social Care Act. This made it much, much easier for private companies to take publicly funded contracts away from public hospitals. Privatisation of services increased 500% last year.

As public services decline due to lack of public funding, further private companies will come in, and without intervention will eventually take over the entire service. Re-nationalising our hospitals and GP surgeries once this happens will be nigh impossible.


So what can be done?

Well the choice to maintain a publicly funded NHS isn’t as simple as “are we willing to keep spending more money on the NHS?”

There are many areas in the NHS where vast amounts of money could be saved and redistributed, without an extra pound from the Treasury. I’ve written about this before.

The two predominant areas of waste in the NHS are not how care is given, but where care is given. Currently private finance initiative deals provide £11 billion pounds of worth to the NHS, in the form of buildings and maintenance, but will end up costing the taxpayer £80 billion in interest. Hospitals like Barts Health in London pay £2.7 million a WEEK in interest on these deals. Why hasn’t this been addressed? Again it’s a choice not to. An alternative choice would be to nationalise this debt and renegotiate it – even restructuring it to paying 1/3 less would save the NHS £23 billion – enough to fund it fully for the next ten years.

Similarly the cost of administrating competing private companies and contracts in the NHS has a huge cost – estimated at around £5 billion/year. Reverting back to a purely state-funded and public model isn’t an ideological dream of left-wing liberals – it’s a sound money saving effort. Again, it’s a choice not to do this, because ideologically the government has chosen to create a system that prefers private competition, without any good financial, economic or scientific reason.

And if we don’t plan in the long-term to prevent diseases; diabetes, obesity, falls in the elderly, stroke and heart attacks – we are shooting ourselves in the collective foot. But a political choice was made to save short-term money on public health. Cutting social care costs us 2-3x much as it saves: I regularly have patients waiting for relatively cheap social care in highly expensive hospital beds, or contracting easily preventable conditions in inadequate social situations that develop into hugely expensive and life-threatening disease.


This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. Demand for healthcare is currently unstoppable; it rises 3-4%/yr, and without taking preventative measures, will continue to do so. The government is apparently immovable; they steadfastly refuse to meet this demand, which every year creates larger and larger problems as patients suffer in underfunded and understaffed hospitals. Between the two the strain on the NHS has reached critical mass – it will collapse without drastic intervention.

Neither of these forces are truly immutable; we can curb health inflation with proper prevention and better social care, and we can both fund the NHS to an equivalent level for a modern industrialised country, and save vast amounts of money through removing deals that are criminally expensive and wasteful.

I hope you now see the NHS is collapsing, and in dire need of help. This doesn’t have to happen. It is a choice.

What will you choose?

juniordoctorblog.com


Read the other parts in this series: The NHS is Collapsing.

Part 1: A Life in a Day of the NHS

Part 2: If the NHS were a patient, I’d be pulling the emergency alarm

Part 3: The collapse is a choice, not a necessity.