As the junior doctors dispute rumbles on, we keep hearing from older doctors (many of whom have retired or left the profession) who are unsympathetic to the strikes. They tell stories of how they worked 120-hour weeks, or fell asleep clerking their patients.
Take Sarah Wollaston for example. The Conservative MP, a former GP and current chair of the Commons Health Committee, has a daughter who is working as a Junior Doctor in Australia. She has also voted consistently in favour of easing restrictions to private firms in healthcare provision. In interviews and on social media outlets since the junior doctor contract dispute began, she has regularly mentioned the 100-120 hour weeks and 72-hour shifts that she once worked. In a sleight of hand more appropriate to a spin doctor than a medical doctor, she declares that she is “not nostalgic” for those shifts, but presents them as being tougher than the current conditions.
Or take Dr Henry Goodall, a retired doctor who has described being on-call 128 hours a week while working as a junior doctor in the 1970s. He has claimed that “today’s junior doctors have become used to working less hard for less hours and more remuneration than the junior doctors of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations did, through no fault of their own. And the pendulum must now swing back once again, to enable and require them to work longer (and smarter) into the future.”
Or Vernon Coleman, a former GP, and now an author of more than 100 books. He brands doctors “a disgrace” and claims on his site that 168-hour weeks were not at all unknown and working weeks of 120 hours or more were commonplace. He states that “Despite this, the selfish little buggers have been prancing around in the streets holding up banners carrying slogans such as ‘Save the NHS’. They should be struck off the medical register for entirely unprofessional behaviour. The miserable little bastards should have trained as accountants”
Thankfully, there are far more senior doctors who don’t have this attitude than do. But for those former doctors who don’t get why today’s junior doctors are so worried about the proposed new contract, I have drawn up a short list of useful facts.
Dear former doctor, thank you for all you have done in service of our nation’s health. But…
• In your day, interns had free hospital accommodation. Now they have to pay.
• In your day, your salary went a whole lot further, and many of you were able to pay off your mortgages.
• In your day, junior doctors lived and worked together and provided a network and coping mechanism in times of difficulty. There was a “firm” culture where health staff were a team.
• In your day, nurses had the time and authority to deal with many issues themselves instead of having to spend almost their entire shift completing paperwork.
• In your day, junior doctors did not graduate with close to £100,000 of student loans to repay.
• In your day, doctors had a generous final salary pension to look forward to.
• In your day, your working life was often not left to be dictated on the whim of management or human resources. In fact, there was no management or human resources.
• In your day, junior doctors from Australia, New Zealand and North America used to flock en masse to the United Kingdom, not just for Fellowship posts for Specialist Training. Why doesn’t this happen any more? Why is there such disparity between ourselves and our peer countries that so many junior doctors have applied to go overseas, when it was once the other way round? Does that not tell you something about how things are comparatively?
Even if junior doctors were working their feet skinless in the pits of hell in your day, why does that matter? You are justifying the unjust, by saying the past was worse. And shame on you.
Nima Ghadiri is a junior doctor working in the NHS as a Medical Ophthalmology Registrar. He tweets @DrStrangetwit