2016-02-10 10.05.49
When I wrote my New Year post, I was ready to leap into frequent updates, including on the important topic of self-care for writers.

Then life happened.

As most of you know, in addition to being a screenwriter and novelist, I am also a junior doctor. On 3rd February, I started a new job as an Advanced Trainee in Psychiatry – also known as a Specialist Registrar, or a psychiatrist who is becoming more specialised in one particular field.

Medicine is a professional vocation that was once very popular, well thought of, and attractive to bright young things looking to make a difference. In many ways, it is still that – but it’s also becoming harder.

Let us count the ways:

Cuts to NHS funding
One of the first things you learn as a newly-qualified doctor is how to use the fax machine. As a twenty-something in 2010, I hadn’t the faintest idea why we were addicted to this technology, but we still cling to it. Since then, I have added to my repertoire: scanning reports, posting clinic letters, answering the telephone, manning reception, and fixing the photocopier.

When the photocopier ran out of ink before Christmas, we ran up the stairs several times a day to use the only other copier/printer in the building. No new ink arrived because our temporary admin had left and we had failed to hire another one. All other administrators were rushed off their feet, reduced in numbers by a third. Like our community nurses and social workers. Because we have to make yet more savings to our budget.

When I have time, I practice medicine. When there’s no one else to do it, I fix the photocopier.

A Considerate Employer?
Riddle me this: what job do you apply for without knowing where it is, what you’ll get paid and what hours you’ll work? Welcome to being a junior doctor.

I found out the location of my new job in November – an half-and-a-half drive from my new home. I found out what I was getting paid last week. I received my work duties for March yesterday.

When I got married in 2012, I had just started a new job. The medical staffing department in my new hospital couldn’t guarantee that I would have my wedding day off work, and refused to consider accommodating me.

When I finished my last job, I was meant to be working night duty. I would’ve finished work at 9am in one hospital and started at 9am in another. Without my friend’s generosity, I would’ve been scuppered.

Morale is low when your employer isn’t interested in you as a person.

A new contract
You will have read in the media that doctors are getting a pay rise and they’re after more money, the greedy so-and-sos. You may also have read that medics are “militant”, that doctors are ensorcelled by the BMA, and that you should Google your child’s rash (DO NOT DO THIS).

Many others have said this better than me, but I will say it again: if the government want an all-singing, all-dancing seven-day NHS (as opposed to the current seven-day NHS we have for urgent care, emergency care and hospital inpatients), they have to fund it. You cannot take the money for five days’ worth of doctors – and the actual doctors themselves – and spread them over seven days. You may get more doctors on the weekend, but you will necessarily have fewer doctors all the rest of the time.

And we need other professionals. We do not work in isolation. We need investment in allied health professionals – the nurses, social workers, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, radiographers, porters and administrators. Or all those “extra” doctors will be pushing trolleys and fixing photocopiers.

How you can support us
Firstly, thank you for reading this post. Being better informed about the issue helps you to be a stronger ally.

Secondly, please support your doctors on the picket lines today. A packet of biscuits or a cup of tea is greatly appreciated, but a word of solidarity or a signature on a petition is even more valuable.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, support doctors’ voices and challenge dangerous ideas about the NHS that are being spread by those in charge. There is a reason I write a disclaimer on my posts when I talk about mental health in fiction. There is a reason we have peer-reviewed scientific journals and not press releases from the Health Secretary. Be good internet citizens, and spread good information.

Thank you.

2 Comments

  • I look forward to reading your novels (my local library does not provide any of them yet). At the same time, your different fields inspire me to think of a work of fiction based on reality in Psychiatry ‘stranger than fiction’. Filling in the dots… of an unspoken-about past… What do you think?
    PS the doctor in you may scoff at the suggestion – homeopathy offers a specific remday for fear of falling (read in your interview , crime fest 2015) – best wishes!

  • SarahLouise

    As a former medical secretary, I feel appalled that junior doctors are being portrayed as striking for pay. People need to realise that they are striking because the staffing levels are unsafe, causing mistakes to be made. The NHS is on its knees and we all need to wake up to that fact.

    I guess the days when consultants and their team of junior doctors got their own AMSPAR qualififed medical secretary are over! People don’t see the sheer volume of behind the scenes administrative work that doctors have to do. I still have nightmares about how many tapes I’ve got to type!

    By the way, when the strikes were on I was going to take a bag of sweets to show my support but I thought it would look a bit daft; however now you’ve said about the biscuits, I shall drop off my sweets as a sign of solidarity next time!

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