I have two issues with the recent junior doctor strike. One, why did they have to take action on my day duty? Selfish. Though, interestingly, the day was amazingly quiet. Which just goes to show that so much of our workload is led by patient behaviour – and opens up the possibility that we could trot out something along the lines of, ‘Sorry, we’re all feeling a bit shit today, so the NHS is shut’ next time we fancy a duvet day.
And two, the fact that the motive for striking had to be contorted into concern for patient safety. True, the spin-medics say – probably correctly – that you won’t win the public relations battle by banging on about money. But it still irritates me that doctors are supposed to be so angelic and vocational that they’re above worrying about the mortgage.
Something has to give, and if it’s not my sanity then it’s patient safety
Which brings me to the extraordinary meeting of LMC representatives. We could be steeling ourselves for anything from, at one end of the spectrum, fully manned- and womanned-up industrial action to, at the other, a leaflet/poster campaign politely asking everyone to bother us a little less, if it’s not too much trouble.
But whether we decide to square up to a bullying Government or run home with slightly wet pants to mummy, the message we send out does not need any contriving. Because this time it really is patient safety.
It’s simple. I don’t want more money. I want less work. Why? Because the current pressure is unsustainable. It’s unprecedented. And it’s dangerous. I’m getting into work earlier, I’m getting home later and, within this ever expanding day, I’m packing more and more in per hour, because more and more per hour is being asked of me.
Something has to give, and if it’s not my sanity then it’s patient safety. Already, I’m cutting corners. I’m taking best guesses in consultations. I’m doing what’s expedient. I’m sending more people to A&E. I’m lowering my threshold for referral. I’ve even caught myself dishing out antibiotics, goddammit. My perplexed, amoxicillin-clutching patients have taken to asking me if I’m OK, to which I reply, ‘obviously not’.
Worse still, the brain-addling pressure is making me unreliable. In recent weeks I’ve forgotten to do some prescriptions, overlooked phone calls, and, who knows, maybe missed a home visit or two – I can’t tell, my mind’s too scrambled to know what sodding day it is. I’m not burned out, but I am overwhelmed.
So, no matter how we decide to convey it, the message must be clear. Seeing your GP is no longer safe, because we’re stretched beyond proper functioning. Mistakes will be made, and, ultimately, it’s the Government’s fault for, by its own admission, punishing and neglecting GPs for so long. Something has to change, so let’s hope that this extraordinary meeting comes up with an extraordinary plan. Otherwise, with patient safety going down the pan, the politicians will have blood on their hands. Literally. Though we know who’ll take the rap, don’t we?
Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex. You can follow him on Twitter @DocCopperfield
Pulse will be reporting live from the Special LMCs Conference this Saturday. Follow all the developments at pulsetoday.co.uk/lmcconf