Young doctors are not only on strike for their wages, but also for their safety

Young doctors go on strike with a passing ambulance

Working as a resident in a diverse area of ​​East London is exciting but also challenging (Image: John Keeble/Getty Images)

The day begins promptly at 8am as I walk down a corridor with a seemingly endless line of patients.

There’s a cacophony of dismay and disappointment when – all too often – I’m stopped by a desperate person asking for help or their angry family member looking for answers.

Who can blame them? I would be in her shoes the same if it were my loved one.

As soon as I reach my station, the mayhem and mayhem continue. All of my senses become overstimulated – the constant beeping and buzzing, colleagues rushing to keep things afloat while I struggle with information overload and can’t hear myself think.

This is how my day begins and ends day by day.

Working as a resident in a diverse area of ​​East London is exciting, but it also involves challenges – and the cracks are particularly evident in my colleagues. That’s why I and many of my fellow residents are on strike this week.

This winter, this way of working became a habit. Despite the physical and mental exhaustion, I didn’t even question it.

That is, until a colleague of mine was brought to tears and confessed that she and everyone around her existed in a hypnotic, zombie-like state. She pointed out that while we are martyrs to a healthcare system that is tearing at the seams, we are completely neglecting our physical needs.

It’s an NHS held together by the apparent goodwill of its workforce. From then on, the term “zombie cohort” began to crop up in the daily conversations I had with other residents.

That describes my feelings perfectly.

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Finishing on time is rare, short breaks are a luxury and on particularly bad days there is not even time for a sip of water all day. This is the reality observed by all my colleagues.

But it wasn’t always doom and gloom.

As a medical student, starting April 2020, I volunteered at a local family doctor’s office on the brink of collapse. This was my first exposure to working in a collapsing healthcare system which was at the onset of Covid-19 but my spirit has not been dampened.

In fact, I’ve been inspired by all of the brave healthcare professionals and support workers around me. The brave spirit continued throughout my clinical tenure in the East Midlands region as the pandemic ensued.

Watching firsthand the commitment of all the healthcare professionals who have been battling the pandemic while Downing Street celebrated and flouted its own rules. Looking back, I feel a deep sympathy for all the health workers whose victims have allegedly been ridiculed by our lawmakers.

In August last year I started my career as a newly qualified doctor.

My first few days in hospital life were confusing, exciting, and educational at the same time. Medicine is neither easy nor stable – it is a rollercoaster ride.

Even before this winter’s chaos, the cracks in the healthcare system were evident. It’s no wonder – with unsatisfactory investment in the NHS and no discernible roadmap over the last 13 years – the Tory Government seems to me to be running a minimum service that is failing many of us.

But as the NHS descended into this winter, the sheer desolation of being on the front lines began to dissipate in an unforgiving way. It felt like nothing we had been through before – not even Covid-19.

Striking NHS junior doctors on the picket line outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham

Joining the thousands of young doctors striking across the UK was invigorating (Image: Jacob King / PA Wire)

The chaos and turmoil I experience every day continues. But it’s dangerous for my patients.

We see late diagnoses of cancer and various other pathologies with alarming frequency. An unforgettable moment was a young woman who gave birth to her second child.

Instead of celebrating with loved ones, she was in a busy hospital 10 days later when we broke the news that she had a massive brain tumor. Her prognosis was bad.

These moments are extremely emotional for your doctors: Since then, I think of this woman every day. These patients require more complex procedures that are hard to come by in a resource-constrained NHS.

I feel like I’ve failed miserably in my mission to improve the lives of others. But those in power have failed us and we must clean up their mess.

The zombie cohort is not limited to any specific hospital or specialty, this is a universal problem affecting young doctors across the country.

The burnout rate among young doctors is high. I find it unfortunate that 92% of trusts told NHS providers they had concerns about staff burnout and stress in the wake of the pandemic. Compared to the general population, physicians are more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and insomnia.

Saddest of all, the suicide rate among doctors is up to four times higher than that of the general population. In medicine, we all personally know at least one person who has died by suicide – an unbelievable tragedy. The paradox is how can we help others when poor working conditions prevent us from helping ourselves?

Can anyone blame my colleagues who want to escape the NHS frontline and practice medicine abroad? Or hang up her stethoscope forever? In fact, the most common questions my colleagues ask are alternative careers to medicine.

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With a shortage of 12,000 hospital doctors (according to Nuffield Trust research) and a previously reported doctor-to-patient ratio of a meager 2.8 doctors per 1,000 population (as of December 2019), the imminent exodus of doctors is a problem that is being addressed urgently needs to be addressed in the interests of public health.

Still, there are glimmers of hope.

First, young doctors are striking to restore our salaries, which have been cut by 26% since 2008. Increasing this rate should counteract the brain drain of doctors to other countries with better pay and working conditions – a phenomenon known as “Drexit” (doctor exit).

Both restoring pay and increasing employee retention should create the working conditions we – and ultimately our patients – deserve.

Joining thousands of young doctors who are striking across the UK has been invigorating. It was the injection of new life we ​​all need: a resounding chorus of “enough is enough” for government.

We are all fighting for the good fight – to keep the NHS for generations to come, pay for the restoration and provide good working conditions. Patient safety is our top priority.

The demonstration of solidarity across the country was excellent. Now it is up to the government to act.

The truth is that the NHS is on a razor’s edge and this self-proclaimed ‘zombie cohort’ of young doctors could really use a shot of new life. I reiterate the point that professional well-being is inseparable from public health: the two are inseparable.

We cannot have good healthcare without a well-resourced, replenished NHS.

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Justin Scaccy

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