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The waiting game

I'm having to start my medical career early - and I need Government support

Dr Stephen Naulls 

I hung up the phone and breathed a heavy sigh. My friend, a recently-qualified GP forced into performing almost-exclusive telephone consultations because of the Covid-19 pandemic, had called to check in with me. Recent developments in the health service were having a detrimental impact on both of our wellbeings.

It had been two days since health secretary Matt Hancock had announced to the nation that final-year medical students would be starting early on the wards as doctors. Bewildered by the announcement, the sentiment amongst most of my peers was one of nervousness, tempered by frustration. If we were starting early on the wards, when was he planning on telling us?

This frustration was dwarfed, however, by that of seeing my colleagues’ pleas for adequate PPE seemingly falling on deaf ears. As one of the thousands of newly-qualified doctors ready to imminently join the workforce, I echo the calls for urgent Government action. There is currently little confidence among healthcare workers that there is a well-established supply chain of PPE capable of making its way through to the frontline, nor that it will be of a sufficient standard once it arrives. Bolstering our workforce with thousands of recruits will prove redundant without providing them with sufficient protection.

Without support, protection and inductions, we risk ruining a new generation of doctors’ morale 

Protection from the virus physically needs to be matched with appropriate support mentally. Starting your foundation training in ordinary circumstances can prove gruelling. Doing so amid a global pandemic brings with it the likelihood that many new doctors such as myself will succumb to moral injury.

We must all be given comprehensive inductions. Senior support needs to remain available and be easy to access. Appropriate safeguards and working protections must continue to apply. Without these things, we risk ruining a new generation of doctors’ morale from the outset of our careers.

All of this occurs within the context that the first cherished members of our NHS family, heroes working on the frontline, have sadly died from Covid-19. In the coming months and years as the health service recovers from the scathing impact of the virus, it is healthcare workers who will continue to bear the scars of working on the frontline, and the memory of those we have lost who will persist in our consciousness.

My friend’s call made me feel supported and valued. I know thousands of similar interactions will have taken place over the previous days and weeks - a chat over a cup of tea, a joke at the end of a difficult night shift, an offer to talk if it all feels too much. All visible human moments of kindness hidden amongst the turmoil caused by a microscopic enemy. I have no doubt that NHS staff will support one another as we always have done. Now, the Government needs to do the same.

Dr Stephen Naulls is a newly-qualified junior doctor, starting work in London

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Readers' comments (21)

  • All I want to say is that
    They don't really care about us- MJ

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  • Cobblers

    May I second that. You are cannon fodder, untermensch in their eyes and they will feed you to the meat grinder without a thought.

    Look after number one, yourself and, by dint of that, your family.

    Welcome to the medical world. :-) It can be the most wonderful job but the NHS truly does not care.

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  • Hi Stephen, I'm sorry you are not getting a break before you start clinical work after many years of hard study. At the end of my career, like many jaded old docs, I can't say stuff like, "Its the best job in the world a la RCGP". What may help is to look at Dr Dike Drummond's YouTube short videos on the causes of physician burnout and what you can do to protect yourself, at least to some extent. Better to know this at the start of your career. You must be careful with personal protective equipment and not take on too much too early.

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  • emigrate once your first year is over. really really not joking.

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  • You are going to learn very soon that the government and NHSE do not care about you, your problems, or your mental health. Don't have that expectation - you'll feel crushed. Undervalued, unappreciated, demoralised, and tired.

    I suggest finish your conscription time here and then making a plan to pack up and move to Oz or Canada if you want happiness.

    That being said, Stephen, you are an intelligent young man and I wish you all the best.

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  • Best wishes. Look after yourself. You come first. Forget that brainwashing of you come don't. You're a patient to someone too, and if things get tough leave that front line, the managers, the rota, inert NHSE and take a break and find peace in your great efforts but in solitude too and with family. The system is a system, it has taught many of us that it cares very little for you and so you must do that yourself, consciously and daily. And never feel guilt, never.

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  • I feel like you guys deserve a contractual 3 month paid sabbatical to repay you for this - I know you're getting paid, but losing out on that gap between qualification and starting the job is a real shortcut to burnout, let alone considering the conditions you'll be working in as your starting post.

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  • Glasgow-gp | GP Partner/Principal07 Apr 2020 6:44pm

    Nobody 'deserves' anything... Friedman once said. At least they have a 'choice' in whether to be a bleeding heart do-gooder, or as Stephen's tone in the article indicates, a sceptic. And it's always easier to spend other people's money... Or are you happy to pay more tax for this sabbatical? The next question is then - If you are, then why not just give them your own money directly now, instead of having HRC be the middle man?

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  • Would cost about £45mill. - happy to chip in my £1.50, and I'll cover yours as well if you find it that disagreeable. You're right, I could crowdsource the whole thing and call it the Christopher Ho Benevolent Fund in your honour for giving me the bright idea. I'll set up a GoFundMe when I get a mo.

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  • How'd you arrive at £45m & £1.50 per capita? If you crowdfund it with assurances, I'd happily chip in more than my 'fair share' if I deem the cause just. The volunteer service clearly shows that there is plenty of altruism and human solidarity out there.
    I simply don't like it when compelled to by an inefficient state. Or when individuals think the state should do this and that... with the 'cures' it comes up with potentially worse than the problem.

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