My patient had just been told by her consultant that her breast cancer had spread. The gruelling chemotherapy she had been going through was no longer working and she was going to die, leaving her young children behind. It was hours after the 'official' end of my shift, but I felt compelled with responsibility to stay to comfort her and her family and arrange her ongoing care. On my way home, I could not stop thinking about her situation, my eyes had teared up as I drove. This is a typical day in the life of a doctor and even though I had again missed putting my one-year-old baby to bed I didn't mind. It is part of being a doctor and I love my job.
What I do mind is how the government continues to undervalue the importance of healthcare and the NHS. This is evident from the new junior doctor contracts which the Government will impose from August 2016. This new contract will have major repercussions on patient care and safety as well as doctors wellbeing and wages. Junior doctors work long hours and these proposals will remove the safety limits that ensure doctors are not over tired. Being fatigued and stressed impairs judgement and increases the chances of mistakes. Would you want a tired and over worked doctor making life and death decisions about you or your family? Neither would we!
The new contract puts the quality and standard of future health care at risk. For example, I am currently pursuing a career as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon to help a wide range of patients including those that have been diagnosed with cancer to those that have had severe facial injuries from accidents. To train as maxillofacial surgeon I have had to obtain degrees in both medicine and dentistry, studying for 9 years in university. This is all before starting training to become a highly skilled surgeon. This training requires commitment, and doctors that wish pursue this will accrue £80,000 of debt just in tuition fees. The new contract does not recognise this extra training as being worthwhile, and penalises doctors choosing to follow this career pathway with a huge pay cut. This without doubt will reduce the number of people choosing to enter this speciality, risking the future provision and standard of this surgery.
My husband, also a doctor is specialising in Obstetrics and Gynaecology but currently he has taken time out of training to research treatments for women who suffer repeated miscarriages. The government now wishes to penalise doctors who take time to research important conditions such as miscarriage or cancer. When returning to hospital training, this time will not be recognised resulting in a pay cut.
We have so many talented people working as our doctors in this country. How are we going to continue to attract and retain such talent when the Government shows them no appreciation. Since the contract announcement, requests to the GMC for paperwork to allow junior doctors to emigrate have jumped dramatically. We nurture and develop the best and brightest to become doctors, who provide high quality healthcare. It's a travesty that so many doctors are now choosing to work abroad where they feel they will be better valued. It's not the doctors who lose out, medicine is a transferrable skill that can be practiced anywhere across the globe, instead it is the patients who suffer.
So, where do we go from here?. The British Medical Association have withdrawn from negotiations after being told there could only be negotiation on the finer details. Sixty-thousand doctors have signed a petition calling for strike action. There has so far been universal condemnation (including the Royal Medical Colleges) but despite this the government are steamrolling ahead.
The future of an NHS delivering safe, high quality care for patients depends on attracting the best people into medicine and having doctors fit to work, not risking the return of excessive hours leading to exhaustion. We want the public to know and understand why we are opposing the new contract and that it wont just affect doctors, but also patients. No doctor wants to strike, we would much rather be getting on with our job, but when backed into a corner we have to fight for the future of our NHS.