Junior Doctors: Does the NHS Care About You?

Junior Doctors in training

On any given day, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise to wake up to a negative story about junior doctors plastered across certain media.

A staffing crisis, for example, led to junior doctors finding themselves caring for more than 400 patients a night – and sometimes being the most senior physician on staff. While many outlets rightly criticised the management failures that could lead to such a situation, other elements directed their ire towards inexperienced doctors directly, accusing them of putting patients’ lives at risk.

The multiple barbs of workplace stress, extreme hours, and patronising editorials have, in combination, contributed to a dive in doctor morale across the NHS. In desperation at the prospect of a pitifully poor – and objectively dangerous – contract, junior doctors tried to show their displeasure through an organised national strike. That didn’t work.

And once again, certain circles of mainstream discourse deflected from the wider issues by condemning these doctors for consciously putting lives at risk for the sake of internal politics – an easy go-to that appears utterly devoid of empathy for, and any understanding of, the mindset of the average doctor.

People don’t go into healthcare so they can walk away from patients or shirk responsibility. For such a last resort to become a possibility to people who regularly push themselves to, and beyond, the limits of physical and mental performance, something must be deeply wrong.

But, of course, those basic motivations don’t matter when everything is boiled down to the lowest common denominator by the casual observer.

So if working so relentlessly that you burn out – or, in the most severe cases, decide to end your life – doesn’t work, and joining together in industrial action only leads to greater vilification and foisted guilt: what’s left?

Even if you leave the profession, the health secretary has said you need to pay back the cost of training. To be clear – that’s on top of the £9,000+ a year already paid for university. Should your experience working as a junior doctor become so stressful that you have a mental break or attempt suicide, you’ll still have to pay back the institution that broke you. There’s an apt word to describe the kind of person who would prefer such a thing over cultural and institutional change – and it rhymes with Hunt.

Should none of the historical crises facing the NHS have affected you so far, it’s a dead cert there will be a new one that does. Genuine mistakes happen, such as the April 2018 job offer disaster that left hundreds of hopefuls in fear for their future, but designation of culpability is no remedy for a general air in which junior doctors exist constantly under the crosshairs – and it’s no surprise that so many are increasingly disaffected. After all, there’s plenty more where that came from – in terms of attitude, if not reality.

This approach will no longer work for the NHS. Think there’s a staffing crisis now? Wait a few more years.

Junior doctors are waking up to the truth. The NHS is not the nurturing, supportive figure it purports itself to be. Perhaps it once was, but culture on the ground and in the mainstream increasingly demands more of its cogs with fewer fucks given. Be mindful and do what you can to keep in control of your health and happiness.

Your peace of mind is the most valuable thing you have – protect it, and don’t give it up to anyone. Especially not organisations that claim to care, while demonstrating the opposite.

If you’ve been feeling the personal crush, discover how I took back control – and how you can do it too – by picking up a copy of my book, Physician on Fire, today.

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