This piece was originally written for my Huffington Post blog (yeah, I’m a Huff Post blogger now, baby! http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/hannah-barhambrown/), on the day of the first Junior Doctors Strike. The issue may have gone quiet in the media, but much is still happening behind the scenes, and we still need the public to understand why, so here it is on this blog, in the hope that even more people will read, share, and inform using it. Thanks for reading.
“Lately, there has been a lot of talk about doctors ‘holding the NHS to ransom’, by striking in order to further line their own pockets. This may seem a bit rich if you’ve read The Sun recently. Doctors apparently live a champagne lifestyle. The amount of money they are alleged to have, I’m frankly disappointed that so few of them look like George Clooney. He looked great throughout his time in ER, and never held up a piece of taped up cardboard on a protest march. Oh George.
Even if that image of #MoetMedics were true (and as a future doctor, it sounds GREAT), this is actually about junior doctors standing up for their NHS. We love the NHS, which is why doctors stay in the UK (trust me, the pay and the hours are far better in Australia, and I’ve always fancied a beach body). It is more than simple Stockholm Syndrome – yes, it takes over our lives, it keeps us from our families, and we work bloody hard and spend scary-money to qualify. But we love it, because this is our NHS too. It cares for us, and THIS is why my qualified colleagues are striking. We all have relatives who are cared for by the NHS. I am disabled (though I prefer ‘wonky’), and spend a fair bit of time in hospital, both for work and my own care. Occasionally I forget whether I’m meant to be in the bed or wearing the stethoscope. Which could get awkward. I am grateful to doctors for striking, because they are doing it to protect patients like me, and future NHS employees, like me.
No doctor wants to strike. Frankly, it’s January, and picket lines aren’t exactly warm places to spend a day. But mainly, no one wants to let patients down. No one wants to see appointments or surgeries cancelled, because we all know how important these are to people. I was in hospital for five days post-op in December, and had I been postponed, I would have been livid, because it is such a big life event, whatever the operation. But in medicine, we have to balance short term and long term benefits every day. We won’t give you a drug that will make you feel great for a couple of days if it is going to do you serious harm in the future. The first rule of medicine; “Do no harm”, does not come with a timeframe. Strikes are a short term inconvenience, but emergency care will be there ready when needed, just like Christmas Day.
If we look to the long term, and the potential harm the NHS could suffer if this contract goes through, then that is far worse than this temporary inconvenience. That will cause far more harm to our patients than a few days of strikes. Exhausted doctors make mistakes, and boy, will we be exhausted. I wouldn’t want the surgeon who rebuilt my knee last month operating at the end of a twenty hour shift. No amount of espresso will make that safe, and while my knees aren’t the most reliable, I am rather attached to them, scars and all. If doctors work longer hours, and short-staffing gets even shorter, then mistakes are going to happen, and I don’t want that to involve me, whichever side of the doctor’s desk I’m sitting on.
I’m starting as a doctor in August. It’s meant to be scary, but it’s meant to be safe, manageable and worth all of the stress. But I’m actually scared to start because I have no idea what to expect, in terms of hours, support from other staff or the expectations that will be placed upon me. I like stress. I not only want to work in A&E, I want to do it parked in a wheelchair. I don’t make it easy for myself, but I expect my employers to make it safe and practically possible. And I deserve to be paid fairly for the work I do.
I don’t particularly like Moet. I’m happy with a pint in my local (once the bar staff have noticed my hand waving over the bar from my seated wheelchair position, and realised I’m not a child). I don’t expect to buy a house in London anytime before (or after) I retire. But I want to have kids and be able to afford childcare, and I want to help people. So that’s why junior doctors are on strike – so that, come August, we can do our jobs safely, and know that our loved ones will receive the care they need too. I cannot thank them enough for that.”