I realise that at this point in time that my letter is probably a drop in the ocean, and also that it is very likely that it will never be read by any of yourselves. However, if my job has taught me anything is that even the smallest efforts matter so I implore you to read what I have to say.
My name is Benjamin Carter, I am 26 years old and I work as a paediatric junior doctor in St Richard's Hospital in Chichester. I came from a working class family who believed in my ability and helped me push myself to become who I am now. I endured 6 years of medical school, 2 years as a foundation trainee doctor and having worked a year as an extra paediatric junior doctor on our rota I now have the privilege to take up a paediatric speciality trainee job in September. I love my job, my hospital and my team from healthcare assistants, to nurses to my fellow doctors junior and senior. I love that even at my relatively young age that I can make a huge difference in childrens' and parents' lives with my expertise. Yet after this week I am filled with dread at the future going forwards for doctors. I even feel quite upset that I am typing this.
I went to Brighton and Sussex Medical School, which as you may or may not know is a joint venture between Brighton and Sussex universities. This meant that throughout my university life I was surrounded by some very left wing people and a good number of my friends too were decidedly anti-Tory. Nevertheless I remained relatively apolitical and turned a deaf ear to most of the anti-conservative rhetoric, for the most part I took it as over-emotional student prattle and assured myself that the conservatives couldn't be THAT bad and that left wing governments would be equally as at fault. However, following this week I am forced to reconsider my position and even question my judgement at having voted conservative at points in the past. I assure you, I am very prepared for a wave of 'I told you sos' in the wake of my writing this.
My grievance Mr Hunt is with your vile comments in your recent King's Fund speech that paint the NHS doctors workforce as lazy, money-grabbing, unprofessionals and that we are fundamentally opposed to 24-7 healthcare. As a result I have already seen a great many members of the public who for one reason or another latched onto your words and are repeating the rhetoric that doctors aren't worth their salt and would rather be playing golf than helping people back to health. So I am sure that you cannot claim to be surprised to learn that we as a group are upset, demoralised and feeling entirely unappreciated for the sacrifices we make. Having never been a doctor, or any form of health professional yourself short of advocating therapies that have been proven wholesale to be of no tangible benefit, I am at a loss as to why you are A: fit to be called a health secretary, or B: entitled to comment on how our lives actually work. It also gravely concerns me that you either do not know how to interpret statistics or are in fact deliberately twisting figures to you ends, because your interpretation of the meaning of your source regarding 6000 lives lost due to being admitted on a weekend totally fails to recognise any confounding or unmeasured factors and only serves to highlight your total misconception of the difference between routine and emergency care.
Please allow me to paint a picture for you, as I am sure you are aware by now due to the #IminworkJeremy movement, a great many doctors work weekends. I for one tend to work 1 in every 3.
This includes juniors and consultants, my consultants in particular have a rota for who is covering the weekends day and night because we need that expertise. When on call for that weekend, my consultants do ward rounds, they see sick children, they are present for the emergencies that their wealth of experience and knowledge helps resolve. They do not opt out, they do not complain, and they certainly do not go straight back to the golf course. They might not always be on site for the whole 72 hour weekend, but they are never more than a phonecall away. I look up to my consultants as pillars of excellence and professionalism. For you to say that we as a group operate with a lack of vocation and professionalism is not only false, it is gravely insulting.
You will probably wish to claim that your attacks (and they were attacks) on doctors were aimed at consultants only and that you know that junior doctors are working weekends. However, I also wish to draw your attentions to the recent junior doctor contract negotiations in which your officials remarked that when a doctor is deciding whether or not to stay over their shift for the benefit of a sick patient that they should not receive time or money back as the BMA (rightly) suggested, but instead that they should use their professionalism when deciding to stay. Fine, if that is they case then next time you are called to an emergency meeting, I would implore you to use your professionalism and not claim expenses for it.
You might wish to ignore this fact but we all have personal lives Mr Hunt. I for one love watching live heavy-metal music and fencing, neither of which I get to do much any more because of my work commitments. I have a wife-to-be who is also a doctor, and it is a blessing if by random chance we both have a weekend off to enjoy each other's company. I have a friend who lives in Belgium who I would sorely love to visit, but can't because of my working schedule. My colleagues have children that they only fleetingly see because of work. Night staff routinely work on the back of 2-3 hours of sleep, because they can't sleep in the daytime due to needing to see their families and due to total lack of proper break provision. It is not unreasonable to say Mr Hunt, that by helping save lives, we lose parts of our own.
My other grievance lies with your wishes to change the definition of 'normal' time to 7am-10pm. Which would in no uncertain terms result in a real-terms pay cut for those affected. It may come as a surprise to you that junior doctors are so invested in berating your plans, because they will be the ones taking up consultant posts in the near future. Their anger is borne from the knowledge that already our pay is comparable to a high street manager, and that it pales in comparison to a city worker and that neither of those professions require their workers to deal with life and death daily, to endure aggression from those we are trying to help and to be reduced to tears that result from exhaustion and the sheer emotional burden of our daily work. I invite you to come to my place of work and be there holding a dying child's hand and then tell me afterwards that I don't have a sense of vocation. Not to labour the point but at a recent get together with my friends, one of them who is an accountant was complaining over having worked a 40 hour week on a greater than £50,000 per annum job. She was wholly embarrassed when her husband pointed out my average weekly hours and salary and the comparative study periods for our jobs. But still we don't complain, we just accept it because for the most part we love our jobs, but that brings me to my final point.
We do not wish to be affluent, or paid an extortionate wage. We just wish to be rewarded for our efforts and respected like someone who helps others should. Instead, speeches like yours vilify us, and not only fail to recognise the sacrifices we make but in fact wholly ignore our rights as human beings. You then have the gall to say that if we don't like it, you will impose changes on us - in full knowledge that because of our sense of duty and dare I say vocation that most of us wont want to strike, because that will hurt and kill others. I actually think what bothers me most though is the use of the word 'impose' which should have no place in the rhetoric of a democratic government. Put simply Mr Hunt, your words actually scare me, because you sounded VERY totalitarian in your approach.
So congratulations Mr Hunt, you've won, you've beaten us down and spat on our profession knowing that we can't or won't fight back. All that leaves us to do is to look for other options, to emigrate from the country and populace we love, to leave the health services without their staff and increase the need for locum doctors - which as I understand you also aren't fond of. You probably feel that you have some sort of cunning master plan to do this, bankrupt the NHS finances and pave the way for private services, however it is painfully transparent.
I once heard somebody describe this incoming Tory government as 'imagine every Disney villain ever is now running the country' and I dismissed it as massive hyperbole. Now I wonder, because the level of disrespect you have shown this week Mr Hunt, and Mr Cameron by not swiftly addressing it, is very much evil in my eyes.
My final request of any of you is this. I invite you to join me for a talk, I do not wish to shout, I do not wish to insult, all I want to know is why, and to give myself back some glimmer of hope that I am not going to have the profession I adore, destroyed by a group who totally fail to see it's beauty.
Dr Benjamin Carter