Austerity in essential public services is deadly. Grenfell demonstrates it. The NHS exemplifies it.

“I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either..”
Socrates 

Apology by Plato

The events of the last week will undoubtedly shape the future of Britain in a monumental fashion. First, an election like none we have seen for fifty years. Called in hubris, led to nemesis, won, in truth, by no one. History-making nonetheless. The prevailing wind of politics has changed, now blowing Left of centre for the first time in nearly a decade. Corbyn has an approval rating of +6, Theresa May a disapproval rating of -34, nearly mirror opposites of where they stood in November. Who knew?

Theresa May and the Conservatives struck a conciliatory tone. “Austerity is over” they said, in radio interviews, in leaked excerpts from backbencher committee meetings. The “mood has changed” they said.

And then Grenfell Tower happened. And the mood changed again.

As details drip out of what will undoubtedly be known as the biggest domestic disaster since Hillsborough, a hazy but consistent picture coalesces. The fire began reportedly in a fourth floor flat, starting with a fridge. The residents had campaigned for years before about power surges in the building, about the risk of a lethal fire with appliances, but sadly, were ignored. Within minutes, it is reported, the fire had spread out of a window and roared up the side of the tower, consuming the external cladding system as one resident described “like matchsticks”. This external cladding had been part of a recent £8.7 million refurbishment, subcontracted by the private enterprise managing the tower, KCTMO, to update the insulation and aesthetic aspects of the outer structure. In the Times today, it is reported that the cladding material used is illegal in structures greater than 18 metres, is flammable when an alternative fire resistant material would’ve cost just £5000 more, and is illegal in Germany and the USA. Sky News’ Faisal Islam shared a BRE presentation this weekend, a diagram of exactly the kind of disaster that befell Grenfell, dated June 2014, three years ago exactly. In summary, we await the public inquiry that must happen, but it seems 58 (at time of writing) people died in a preventable disaster, that was forewarned, already forestalled in other countries, and seems to have been the result of thoughtless (one hopes) cost cutting from a private company.
But, as Damian Green stated in an extraordinary Radio 4 interview, “we must await the experts”.

Which struck a chord with me.

The mantra “prevention is better than cure” is as true in medicine as it is in fire fighting. Much of what we do, day to day, is about preventing future disease, rather than treating it’s corollaries. We use safety cannulas for preventing needlestick injury, we campaign to stop smoking to prevent lung and other cancers, we screen and treat alcoholics on admission to hospital to prevent deadly withdrawal seizures. When we see impending disaster threatening human life, we have a duty to act, as best we can.

A disaster likely already happened in the NHS, and I cannot help but see the parallels with Grenfell. In February of this year a Royal Society of Medicine Report looked into what was explained away by the government as a “statistical blip.”. Since 2010 the death rate in the U.K. was rising, for the first time in fifty years. More people were dying. To be exact, 30,000 “extra” people died in 2015 compared to what was expected. This study attempted to explain where these extra deaths came from. Was it a subpar flu vaccine one season , as Jeremy Hunt, once and current Health secretary, had claimed? No, the study concluded, the only explanation that fit the data was that 30,000 excess deaths were most likely a direct result of cuts to health and social care services.

Let that sink in.

30,000 men and women, potentially your grandmother or father, sister or uncle, whose deaths were in some way contributed to by cuts to services in the name of “austerity”. Like Grenfell, cutting corners and saving pennies, led to a national disaster. Like Grenfell, multiple agencies have limited oversight over the system as a whole. Yes, the buck stops with the government, but I’m sure they can pass it through any number of government and non-government subsidiaries. Like Grenfell, this essential public service, is sub-contracted in places to private companies, beholden to shareholders as much, if not more, than to the public they are supposed to serve. And like Grenfell, warnings about impending disaster, from “experts” and public alike, have fallen on deaf ears. But unlike Grenfell no one saw these deaths for what they were, a national disaster on a behemoth scale.

Austerity kills. It has already potentially killed 30,000 men and women in health and social care. It has killed at least 58 in Grenfell last week. It has killed thousands of disabled people whose benefits were removed just months before they died. Who knows where else this cost-cutting at any cost has cost lives to save pennies?

If you think I’m politicising this tragedy, you have it backwards. The politics came first, then the tragedy.

Which brings me back to where we started. “Austerity is over” they said. The “mood has changed” they said. As if austerity were always a fanciful choice, a frivolity that was chosen on a whim, as one might decide on a suitable tie, or a wallpaper for the living room. I don’t remember anyone claiming austerity was a “mood” when Osbourne and Cameron were laying waste to health and social care budgets, schools and police funding. Austerity was essential, they said. We have to “live within our means” they said. Except some of us didn’t manage to. Potentially as many as 30,000 of us, our most vulnerable.

So now austerity is over. Was it ever actually necessary? The short answer is no. The long answer is, perhaps for a while, but ultimately still no. Despite what the Mail and Sun has peddled for half a decade, the idea the economy is akin to a household budget is laughable. Pretending we only have control of spending in a government trying to “balance the books” is patently stupid; a government sets it’s own revenues, through tax and VAT, NI and council tax, levies and custom duties, subsidies from other countries, like the EU. Austerity was harmful to our economic recovery. This isn’t left wing socialist claptrap, this is mainstream economics. The IMF agrees as did a large backing of the UK’s top economists. This is economic theory that goes back a hundred years. Any economist could’ve told you that. But of course, we had had enough of listening to “experts” then.

Apparently that’s all changed now.

If we are listening to architects and fire officers again, perhaps we could list to economists and health experts again too, to teachers and police federations. To paraphrase Socrates, wisdom is knowing what one does not know. As a doctor I’ve begun to understand this more and more. Being conscious of the limits of my knowledge makes me safer, means I can operate with uncertainty and know where I need a colleague’s advice, or my boss.

In the age of the internet it seems we now know everything, but understand nothing. For too long we all “knew” that austerity was necessary, that “too much red tape” was throttling business and enterprise, that the NHS was “bloated” and spending “too much money”. Did any of us examine where this “knowledge” came from?

Now we see we knew nothing at all. I hope from these tragedies we can salvage some wisdom.

In an impassioned interview, the MP David Lammy spoke about the “safety net” of schools and hospitals, of decent housing, that is falling apart all around us. Austerity has shredded that safety net, and many have died slipping through the gaps.

Austerity is over, they say. I think we can rebuild this safety net, I hope we can fix the NHS.

But then, what do I know?

Juniordoctorblog.com

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. 

Gagged and bound. NHS doctors today.

“The airline industry has learnt that pilots must feel they can speak out”

Jeremy Hunt, May 2016

Imagine this.

You are a doctor, resident in hospital, not quite a consultant. You are employed by the hospital, but you rotate through different areas and different hospitals to broaden your experience of different practices. This is designed to make you a better, safer doctor.
One day you come to work, and find you are the only doctor working- there is no one else rota’d to be there. You have to look after your own hundred patients, but now you need to look after two hundred more. You are desperately worried this is not safe. People might get hurt.
As you have been taught to do, as a doctor and a hospital worker, you raise the alarm. You phone your bosses and tell them, you phone their bosses and tell them too. You try your best to keep people alive.
A few months later you sit down with your bosses, and they feel you harmed the reputation of the hospital. They sack you. Not just from that job, but from all training. In a single swipe, your career is over.


Fair? No. Safe? Definitely not. Legal? Surprisingly, and reprehensibily, yes.
At least according to a similar recent legal case against a junior doctor, Dr Chris Day, that decided that the sacking of a doctor for raising alarms over patient safety, for refusing to cover up negligence and potential harm to patients, is not only legal, but a ‘conscious choice of parliament’. The case is currently going to appeal in the Court of Appeal.
Does that sound right to you? As a patient? As a taxpayer? Your health service, at the absolute frontline, is staffed by junior doctors. These are the doctors that see you when you walk in the door, they will see you every day in hospital, they will do your surgery or keep your lungs breathing for you, they will resuscitate you if your heart stops beating. If there’s something wrong, you can guarantee, a nurse or a junior doctor will see it.
Legally- the hospital can’t sack a doctor for speaking up there and then. But doctors in training rotate department every 4-6 months and rotate hospital nearly every year. There is nothing to stop a ‘troublemaking’ doctor who points out dangerous care from having their career ended as soon as they move on to their next placement. A legal loophole, so dangerous it could swallow the entire NHS.
This has huge implications. Now we know this, many doctors, myself included, would think twice about speaking out. That in itself is a crime. We have mortgages and families- our livelihood cannot rely on the goodwill of pressured hospital managers. If a manager decides to, they can end your career, without recrimination.
I’d like to say the BMA and the GMC would step in to protect a doctor in this situation. The BMA proposed a clause in the new contract to cover this, but it’s legally flawed. The GMC have just been taken over by the department of Health, a conflict of interest in the making.

I’d like to say the Health Secretary, with his long term obsession with ‘whistleblowing’ and patient safety would help- but he himself spent taxpayer money cementing this loophole, keeping junior doctors vulnerable to dismissal for raising alarms.

How has this happened?

Well, all roads lead back to the government appointed body called Health Education England. Trainee doctors are employed by hospitals but hold a general training ‘number’ with HEE that delivers the doctors training over years, and partly pays their salary to their rotating hospital. This arrangement means they aren’t technically covered in law as our ’employer’, so can act with impunity in dismissing whistleblowers.

Funnily enough this is the same ‘training’ body that is threatening hospitals to cut funding for junior doctors if they don’t impose the contract upon them. This is how Jeremy Hunt dodged the legal challenge against imposition- by passing the buck, once again, to an organisation that can’t be sued, currently outside employment law. Proving they are legally our employers, as Chris Day is arguing, may have huge implications for further challenging the ‘imposition’ of the junior doctor contract.


Throughout this year we, as trainees, have fundamentally lost trust in the system. Through incidents like this, through the junior doctor contract dispute, through the years of increasing pressure on resources, target chasing and being ignored.
We have lost trust in the structures that run the NHS and their heads- Health Education England has proved it is neither interested in the ‘education’ of its members nor the ‘health’ of the patients they protect.
As long as we don’t get sacked, we won’t be ‘junior’ doctors for long. In time we will all be your consultants and GPs, the clinical leaders of the NHS. What then? Will we still carry a culture of fear and denial, instilled in us by a system that’s supposed to train and nurture us? Let’s hope not.

The future of a safe NHS depends on it. If you want to do something to safeguard that future, donate to Dr Chris Day’s legal fund here. He needs to raise £100,000 to continue his fight for whistleblowers everywhere.

Help make sure his voice, and all of our voices, are heard.

Juniordoctorblog.com

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

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

If you want an NHS, save it yourself

It was July last year that something changed- Jeremy Hunt took to the podium and started a fight, claiming doctors had a 9-5 attitude, attacking our professionalism. But that fight was just a scuffle in a longer battle for a free at the point of access healthcare system, and it’s a battle that’s over. We lost.

This time last year I was on the street, on my own, staging a one man protest against a government dismantling the NHS and getting away with it. On my birthday a month later I organised a group protest, a Crash Call for the NHS, to raise awareness. Since then we’ve been on the streets, on your televisions, in your newspapers. The NHS is going under, we said, it isn’t safe, we said, people are dying. 

But the government spin machine is immense, and effective, and perceptions have barely changed. 

I was going to write a blog about this suspicious article in the BBC, claiming consultants are overpaid, right as consultants went back to contract negotiations of their own. I was going to point out the average overtime payment is just each consultant doing 6 hours a week more, compared with their basic salary. I was going to point out aberrant arrangements like the one in the article were locally agreed, to save struggling hospitals from huge government fines for waiting lists, despite their underfunding and understaffing. I was going to point out that huge numbers of consultant posts are unfilled, nearly 40% in medicine alone, and that unspent salary cost far outweighs the cost of any ‘overtime’ consultants earn for covering those same gaps. I was going to point out yet again how the government is spinning and dog-whistling and smearing while the NHS goes under.
But I’m not going to. I tried to write a blog full of facts and hope and fight, but I find facts are useless, my hope is gone, and the fight has left.
I wrote before how exhausted we are of all of this, but it’s only got worse and it’s about to get catastrophic

If you read this and think “well the NHS is a lazy, inefficient and rubbish health system, that should be replaced”, then good for you- it’s exactly what will happen. Just check you can afford the co-payments, or insurance premiums, or whatever comes next.
If you read this and think “this can’t happen, but what can I do?” Then think harder. 

Because whatever you do next will have to come from you. This doesn’t have to happen, but sitting at home doing nothing will definitely let it. 

If you want an NHS, save it yourself. 

My name is Dr Dominic Pimenta, GMC 7304248. 

And I quit.
Juniordoctorblog.com

Labour, left, right or other, could learn something from the junior doctors 

We’ve had some rough times in our profession. Sometimes it feels like we work in a building that’s being demolished, and Hunt and friends are wearing ear-protectors and smiling, oblivious to our screams.
The frustration seeps in, and bubbles up between us if we let it-but the one thing that got the junior doctors dispute going, kept it going and pushes it still, is unity.

98% of doctors voted for industrial action. We had a forum of 68,000 doctors able to each have a voice. These are amazing levels of cohesion. The yes/no vote on the contract became bitter- that screaming frustration came through the cracks as we pulled in opposite directions. 

Which is of course exactly what our true adversary, Jeremy Hunt and co, wanted.

I felt a surge of hope again this week. The emergency campaign to raise funds for justiceforhealth against imposition hit £120,000 in just 48 hours. We remain united. We fight on.

I want to apply this model to Labour.

Full disclosure- I’ve voted all over for many years: Lib Dem, then Labour, then Corbyn. 

Now no one will disagree Labour is in a mess. Neither will any Labour supporter disagree the Tories are rampaging across the country and tearing up the welfare state. My red line issue is the NHS and the Tories are well on the way to forcing total collapse.

The back and forth between Corbynistas and Blairites/Eagle-Eyes/Smithies has been childish, moronic, insulting and divisive. On both sides. 

I think no one can disagree Corbyn has failed as a leader. His PR is rubbish- yes you can blame the media, which has been more biased against him than any political figure in recent years, but that just means he needed to work harder. Dropping press releases at the wrong time, allowing damaging behaviours by supporters to become dominant narratives, easy gaff after easy gaff for tabloids to run.

Contrast that with Boris Johnson’s PR team that plastered over exit signs at his Brexit resignation speech JUST SO THERE WASN’T A PHOTO OF BORIS AND AN EXIT SIGN. That’s PR we need in spades. 

But you also cannot argue that the wider Labour Party has also failed. Failed to capitalise on the huge influx of support and interest in Labour with Corbyn. Failed to create a cohesive opposition in followership- every labour MP voting against the leader made more headlines than the vote itself. The image of a fractured useless opposition is going to lose more votes than Corbyn ever would. 

But whatever your opinion the lesson I want to impart to you, Labour, left, middle or other, is one of unity. Watch the television interviews of junior doctors arguing over strikes, or the debate on channel 4 after the yes/no contract vote. I give you examples of how a group can fundamentally disagree and still work to a common purpose. We still treated each other with respect and civility.

In Labour, we can still agree that the Tories will ruin this country and destroy the NHS. We can still agree that whoever the leader the opposition needs as tight a team as the government.

If Corbyn stays, will the anti-Corbyn crowd stay and work with him? Unity is the only way we will win, returning to the backbenches to continue sniping will only serve the Tories.

If Smith wins, will Corbynistas stay on, and support the party that just destroyed their dream? Yes, you must. Because ultimately the party should be bigger than all of us, and if you want to change it you have to stay.

Please remember we are literally squabbling over deck chairs on the Titanic, while iceberg Tory rips the country asunder.

Working together brought out the best in us as doctors. In Labour we have to do the same. Or we will lose everything.
Juniordoctorblog.com

Time to put  your money where your mouth is, or perhaps your heart. 

It’s been two weeks since the junior doctor body voted no to the proposed contract. The contract designed to “create a seven day NHS”, which we apparently need to address “weekend mortality”. Except none of this is true. And after a year of beating our collective heads against the all, the message is getting through.
In a Parliamentary hearing in February NHS head Charlie Massey admitted he had no clue what a ‘seven day NHS’ meant or was, and no plan to create it. He was told he was ‘flying blind’ on the issue.

This week the same hearing sat Mr Hunt down, and found what we have all known all along; Mr Hunt broke his pledge to fund the NHS and lied about it. How can there be funding for an expanded service when there isn’t funding for the normal service? When the normal service is collapsing.

And while Jeremy and the managers of he NHS haven’t bothered to study a plan they claim was important enough to force junior doctors to strike over, somebody else has. Professor Bion researched the weekend ‘effect’ and staffing and said  ‘I’m convinced seven day services cannot be achieved within current funding”.

But this isn’t news. We’ve been saying it for a year. These are the sticks Jeremy and the department of health have used to beat a whole generation of professionals- the ‘spine’ of the NHS. These are the excuses they have made to replace existing safeguards on working time with flimsy untested alternatives, to discriminate actively against women and parents in medicine, to push morale in the NHS to an all time low.

So what would a rational response be? Your contract has been rejected by the majority, your reasons for creating and pushing the contract have fallen apart, you have a new fresh start in government. You would start over right? Rebuild good will?

Sadly no. Jeremy Hunt is forcing the contract through, and not only that he is now trying to blackmail the group opposing imposition in the courts, Justice 4 Health, by demanding at the last minute £150,000 in costs.

Without this money the court case will never be heard- Jeremy will be free to impose, although he knows this is illegal, and sets a dangerous precedent for every other NHS staff group behind us.

I’m tired, just like you. I just want this to end, just like you. But I also refuse to let our profession and NHS be destroyed. This is our watch. This is our responsibility.

Some of you are doctors, some of you voted No – this is why you voted No. You want a renegotiation, or a moratorium, then imposition must be stopped. It’s time to put your money where your mouth is.

Donate here.

Some doctors voted Yes- you might still want this contract. You might think it’s the best we’re going to get. The yes/no divide was bitter, acrimonious, and brought out the worst in us. A year long dispute as a united profession brought out the best of us. Whether you believe the contract is acceptable or not, we must all agree imposition is wrong. Put your money where your heart is, come together again, and support this cause.

Donate here.

If we don’t fight together, we will fail before we even begin.
Juniordoctorblog.com