Can a junior doctor go on strike?

I never thought that I’d be seriously considering striking.  This isn’t because I have any particular objections to industrial action (I grew up in South Wales in the early ’80s; trade unions are pretty much a way of life for me), but I didn’t think that it was something that doctors did.

There’s a strong cultural imperative against doctors striking: it’s the Cardiac Arrest mentality.  If you’ve never seen the BBC drama, then please seek it out (it’s available on YouTube).  Supposedly, the BBC were persuaded to drop it because it was too realistic… (although my personal life has a long way to go before it gets that exciting)

We are conditioned to think that everything will be OK if we just work a little bit harder; if we stay a bit later; miss a few more loo breaks; come in a bit earlier.  It’s hard to reconcile that training with industrial action.  After all, the patient comes first.  I’ve seen a lot of comments from my colleagues who say that they won’t support industrial action because it will impact patient care.

A few years ago, I don’t know what I would have done.  (I was, and remain, very undecided about the action on pensions for example.)  And clearly, I’m a little bit annoyed about the prospect of a 30% paycut, but would that be enough for me to strike?

In the Cardiac Arrest/House/ER world of medicine, being a doctor is all about doing.  It’s about completing tasks; ticking things off on the jobs list. (That really annoying house-officer with the obsessively completed jobs list; the one that’s organised in time/priority order? That was me – I apologise to all my SHOs and registrars who’ve ever tried to share the jobs list)

Everything is a task:

  1. Take bloods – tick
  2. Re-write drug chart – tick
  3. Update family – tick
  4. Chase results – tick
  5. Prescribe fluids – tick

Everything is a task.

That’s not doctoring.  That’s filling in a jobs list.

Proper doctoring is about listening properly to what patients and families are saying (not just what answers your questions).  It’s about having the emotional energy to do something about what they’ve said.  It’s about really, really being there for your patient.  It’s  resilience and teamwork and thinking time.  It’s staying a bit late to check that the patient you admitted earlier is doing ok.

We cannot provide this care with the new contract.

We cannot work at our best if we are exhausted because the safeguards on our working hours are weakened.

We cannot ensure that we get the best people into medicine if we discriminate against parents, carers, those of us working less-than full time or in research

We cannot be resilient or emotionally available or listen properly if we never see our partners, families, or friends.

We cannot provide ourselves with training courses to ensure that we’re up to date if we also have our pay cut.

So when the ballot comes, I will be voting in support of industrial action.  Because the patient comes first


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