It’s 11pm and I’ve just settled into bed. I can hear the comforting sound of Fat Sister turning in for the night in the room next door. I heard her shut the blind, giggling gently as we both said goodnight to the lamp-post.
Fat Sister’s staying to provide my overnight care tonight because I had a last minute gap and wasn’t able to get cover. She came straight from work this evening – she’s a medical registrar at a busy London Hospital and she’s worked 80 hours in the last eight days. But despite this she clocked on as my carer without a grumble. She is, in short, a very good human being.
The NHS is made up of millions of similarly good human beings. They’re our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, radiographers, physios, and all the others who take care of our health. It can though be all too easy when talking about the NHS to forget the real people at its heart – those whose time and skill make and shape our safety net.
But we mustn’t forget about them, and we must listen to them. In just a few hours junior doctors across England (including Fat Sister) will take the unprecedented step of an ‘all out’ strike. For the first time ever they’re withdrawing emergency, as well as routine, care to take to the picket line to demonstrate against the unsafe and unfair contract Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to force them to accept. But we must also remember that their consultant colleagues will be covering for them to maintain the highest level of emergency care.
Don’t be misled into thinking that any doctor would take this desperate and historic action lightly. Is it conceivable that these highly educated individuals, trained to respond calmly in pressurised situations, make drug calculations while faced with patients in agony, calm frightened parents, and negotiate with drunks, are ‘being misled by their union’ or have decided to take a break from work to ‘topple the government? That’s what Jeremy Hunt is claiming, and it’s utter nonsense.
It’s patently obvious that the scheme at the root of this dangerous contract is ridiculous. What Jeremy Hunt is promising is a vastly increased service, but with no investment or resources to support it. The NHS is struggling to manage with the current set up: routine procedures over five days and urgent care at weekends. Stretch the same resources to provide routine non-urgent care over seven days, and the service will inevitably break.
And our NHS is too precious for us to let that happen. Our junior doctors will know better than anyone how critical the situation is. For many, a trip to hospital would be their worst day. For doctors it’s part of every working day. I struggle to comprehend the situations that Fat Sister manages at work and I know there have been many incidents with patients that have affected her profoundly.
Fat Sister and her colleagues need to be able to sleep, eat, learn, laugh and live in order to provide us with the highest quality care at our most desperate moments. Doctors are telling us in no uncertain terms that this contract would be unsafe, and their colleagues across the health service are fully behind them.
The reality is our health service is being run into the ground. Large sections are being handed over to profit-making companies with public money being pocketed by private businesses instead of being re-invested in the system. And our doctors know this. Mr Hunt described the strike as “extreme” and “deeply worrying for patients”. But what I’m deeply worried about is the extreme action he’s taking. He says the “doctors’ strike must be defeated”. I say his contract must be defeated.
As a woman and as a carer Fat Sister would be placed by this contract at a greater disadvantage than her male colleagues. The government’s own analysis acknowledges the contract would have an, ‘adverse effect on women’. It’s a contract that basically says medicine isn’t for women, parents, carers or disabled people. Embedding inequality in this way is devastating for the profession, for our healthcare system and for equality.
We can all support the doctors by donating, signing, campaigning and writing. According to Fat Sister lots of people are also showing their support with tea and cake – so much so that she’s getting a little worried that she really is getting fat!
My interest in this dispute isn’t just because my sister’s a junior doctor or because I believe in fairness and equality. It’s also because I’ve experienced the NHS’s web of care when I’ve been at my most vulnerable, I’ve seen my dad’s life saved after his heart stopped working effectively, and I witnessed the compassionate care that allowed my granddad to die at home in my grans arms. Over all it’s because I have a deep love for the NHS that I want to see it saved from the insanely greedy and destructive policies of this Government.
The fundamental question we all need to ask is who do we trust with our health – the 98% of doctors who back this action, or the career politicians with a self-serving agenda and unworkable policies?
I know where I place my trust.