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Doctors junior or not…Get real Mr. Jeremy Hunt!

Dr Catriona Lawson
Dr Catriona Lawson

worked rotas such as the ones junior doctors in England fear will have forced upon them if they don’t stand up for themselves. I was too tired to think straight, my mental health suffered, and my relationship with my husband was put under enormous strain. Some colleagues who drove home tired had accidents.

I missed out on seeing my friends and family and I couldn’t concentrate to study, or even hear what my husband was saying to me. There were good moments, such as when my wonderful colleague came in on Christmas day and took over when I was in tears in the staff office, and another time when someone swapped a shift for me, despite being given no notice,  so I could help my brother, who was unwell. I learned a lot, but I sincerely believe that I would have learned more if I’d had the opportunity to get enough sleep each night.

While I was working crazy shifts, the European Working Time Directive was put into force and our employers were fined for making us work unsafe shifts. Gradually things improved. I went from working unsafe on-call shifts to working fewer hours. I might still have done a week of nights, but I got 11 hours off in every 24 hours to get home and sleep. These days junior doctors have protected rest time during their long shifts and can look after their own needs and see their families. Doctors still work night shifts and weekends, and these hours are antisocial. It now takes two years, rather than one, for a newly qualified doctor to complete their pre-registration experience. But, during that time they can still continue with their important family relationships, study for exams and even have hobbies.

The junior doctors in England who are going to strike are facing several assaults on their lives. They are having protections removed, which currently gives the EWTD teeth. They may well end up working those long shifts without rest, and be denied appropriate time to care for themselves. Their health and relationships are at risk. Nonetheless, they will be expected to study for exams. They are also facing a future in which fewer people will want to be doctors. Why apply for medicine when law or accountancy would lead to a much safer working life? We have a shortage of GPs, psychiatrists, emergency medicine consultants – are we sure we want to make medicine less attractive to bright, motivated young men and women?

At the age of 22 when I graduated with a medical degree I could have walked away from the NHS and done something else, but I didn’t ever think of that before I started working. At the age of 24, feeling overwhelmed and useless, I was very tempted to pack it in. It wasn’t until I was in a job I could do well, that I started to feel I might actually make it as a doctor. If I had not had my hours reduced I doubt I would ever have become a qualified GP.

I hate the idea of a strike, but I am absolutely in favour of strike action when the alternative is the destruction of a sustainable national health service in England.

Get real Mr Hunt.

This is not just about money; this is about the legacy you will leave the nation you are supposed to be working for. You need to climb down from your attack on doctors, and acknowledge that those working for the health of the people are right this time. You cannot have what you are proposing. It will fail. Instead, you can negotiate something better for everyone.

Dr Catriona Lawson is a GP at Turriff Medical Practice in Aberdeenshire

Follow Catriona @cattyish

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