The Moving Target

So here’s something unexpected.

Before going to visit dad at hospital on Thursday I woke up to a headline where Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was demanding that consultants worked 7 days a week. I was less than impressed. I may not have a lifetime experience of working in hospitals, but to be honest, one would need little more than a week to see that such a headline is meaningless.

Every hospital is like an ecosystem, dependent on many different departments and people for it to function, least of all consultants. And yet Jeremy Hunt appeared to attacking them as being unhelpful and obstructive, targeting their contracts and salaries as being the root cause of dissent.

The doctors? They were asking for financial and budgeting details. They were identifying that Hunt’s stats of increased mortality on weekend admissions is an international phenomenon with the cause not yet clearly identified (just like the increase in heart attacks on Monday). They were upset as they were already working on weekends, with many working towards a full 7-day service, and Hunt’s comments could thus only thus be interpreted as negative spin designed to place the blame on doctors, creating distrust between them and the public.

And yet it was Hunt demanding doctors to ‘get real’. How else could one interpret it but arrogant, blunt politicking, designed to destroy trust, and deliberately create an alternate focus of blame?

Well, it was the breaking point for me, and, as it turns out, for many of the thousands of NHS staff who work incredibly hard, but are sick of getting their credentials constantly questioned.

So I pitched an article to The Guardian.

That morning I pitched them the doctors’ point of view – a junior doctors’ point of view – trying to make it clear that consultants were such a small part of the patient experience. That though it seemed obvious (reasonably so) to the general public that consultants might be solution, the truth was nowhere near. Hospital dramas, which, whether we like it or not inevitably influence public perception of healthcare, always emphasise what doctors and nurses do – they barely touch upon the numerous support staff. They barely touch upon the single radiographer working through the night, the porter needed in five different places at once, the phlebotomist who is only paid till the middle of the day, meaning everyone else’s bloods during the day have to be done by doctors and nurses already overwhelmed by work (my pitch was a little simpler than this btw). The media is just as culpable in focusing too much on doctors as the controlling factor in hospitals. Please, that’s neither true nor desirable. There’s too much at stake for healthcare to be so myopic.

Unexpectedly (for me) the Guardian said yes. They did want to know why I thought consultants were not solution. ‘Make sure your point comes through’ the editor advised. I understood. Keep it simple.

So I took time out from seeing my father (well, I rattled off questions to his team and nurses, ensured he was comfortable, put his favourite music on, gave him a kiss and shot off home) because I couldn’t stand it anymore. I wrote an article in less than an hour. This included moments of self-doubt as I wondered if I knew what I was talking about, thinking about all the things I wanted to say but didn’t have time to; I felt nauseous about having to respond people’s comments. No, keep it simple, focus on what you want to say.

The article was published around 6pm on Thursday 16th July. Today it has over 8000 shares, and over 170 comments. It is found here:

Because Mr Hunt finally hit a nerve.

After years of government statements, and helpful instructions from management to WORK HARDER, staff were sick and tired. Service users and NHS patients were sick and tired. WE/THEY ARE WORKING HARDER came the reply, and not just from me.

Numerous articles rapidly appear repeating my sentiment, but eloquently elaborating. A campaign was swiftly set up were doctors and all staff were encouraged to tweet and take selfies (on breaks or before or after work) making it clear just how much goes into weekend work ( and It was one of the highest trends on twitter yesterday.

The NHS needs to change, to get improve, to reform. It always has, since its very inception. Some healthcare workers will be resistant, that’s human nature, the majority desire it – but only from well-thought out and implemented reform based on fact. Not from confusing, misinterpreted data, myopic thinking and destroying credibility.

It’s easy to target the vulnerable. They can’t respond. In a similar vein, it seemed easy to target healthcare staff. Make people stop trusting them, accuse them of being obsessed with self-interest, and the majority are too overworked and exhausted to complain anyway.

Not anymore. The staff are talking to each other, organising themselves, to fight back. It’s overwhelming. It’s long overdue.


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