Dear Junior Doctor,
This is a message to all the doctors involved in the current dispute over changes to your contracts. As a career sick person and professional patient (and no, I’m not proud of that), I have had the privilege to be cared for by a great many junior doctors. Strangely I’ve never considered registrars to be ‘junior’ but life is full of surprises.
I’m not sure why the government seem so keen to break the NHS and, in truth, I don’t fully understand all of the implications of all the changes they want to make but it felt important to me to offer my support. I’m no one in particular, just a frequent flyer in the NHS, and it breaks my heart to see the apparent systematic destruction of this mighty and great British institution.
Of course, ‘I want great care’, but not at your expense. I don’t want to see crest-fallen doctors working so hard but feeling undervalued and unappreciated. I don’t want to see the doctors who have taken such great care of me wrestle with the dilemma of striking as it goes again your principles. I don’t want great care if it means your training, dedication, skill and empathy are taken advantage of. I want you to feel as valued as I value you.
I’m a patient at numerous hospitals and I’ve often felt deeply moved by the lengths doctors will go from the doctor who made it his personal mission to work out what was wrong with me, to the doctor who sat with me for over an hour whilst I struggled to get used to a NG tube. Then there was the doctor who came to see me after my emergency surgery even though his shift had ended just to check I was ok. To the doctor who researched my conditions so he was better able to fully understand me even though he wasn’t actually seeing me specifically for any of those conditions, to the doctor who reassured me I wasn’t wasting his time when I found myself in A and E with a bowel obstruction. To the doctor who gave me his mobile number (poor lamb) in case I needed some advice or help with my new medications, to the doctor who patiently oversaw test after test after test, always smiling and remaining extremely resolved to work out what was/is wrong with me.
To the doctor who managed to make me smile even though I was enduring the indignity of an MRI Defecating Proctogram, to the doctor who looked at my enormous medical file and said ‘Well, I won’t let this put me off!’, to the doctor who attended my regular review in outpatients even though he’d been working in A & E throughout the previous night because he knew how important continuity of care was to me. To the doctor who…in fact, there are too many doctors to name, but I thank each and every one of them and each and every one of you.
Of course, it wouldn’t be right to forget the nurses, consultants, health care assistants, cooks, cleaners and porters – everyone who makes the NHS what it is. I’m thankful to each and every one of them. But back to junior doctors…
I cannot begin to imagine the dedication and determination you have to get through all that training and to work all those hours. Your desire to help others is breathtaking and yet it’s being taken advantage of as the government are banking on you putting patient care over fighting for your rights. Being valued is important, as what you do matters. It matters to every single one of us.
You may fear a strike could compromise patient care but surely doing nothing and working even more for less is a greater threat? The offer of negotiation seems without foundation as most of the terms are non-negotiable, so the olive branch is merely being waved around rather than being genuinely extended. What choice is there other than striking?
When I’m next in A and E and my life is, once again, in your hands, or when I next attend an appointment or review I want to know you are being respected and rewarded for your dedication and skill because my humble and profuse gratitude for all that you do isn’t enough.
If you strike, be proud of what you’re fighting for. Know you’re not just fighting for yourselves or the NHS but for every single patient as well. Perhaps it’s selfish, after all, I want happy, smiling, dedicated doctors, but I know I’d get that whatever happens as you’re simply too dedicated, however, I don’t want to see your dedication being taken advantage of, I want you to feel valued and to know just how highly you’re regarded.
There is a great outpouring of support on your behalf, people who want you to stand up and say ‘No!’ with a great many more so outraged that you even have to. Although I’m on crutches full time, I will stand with you. As I said earlier, I’m no one in particular, but if everyone who feels as I do stands up, you will realise just how much support you have.