Waiting for the call

Day 19 of lockdown. I had a bit of a ‘moment’ today. I’d had a tough parenting day and it just felt for a brief moment that I couldn’t see an end to this situation… It was depressing. But then the clapping for carers started and I went out to join in. I know this clapping thing is making some doctors feel a bit uncomfortable, and I completely get that. It does feel like too little too late, and I am as cynical as anyone about how long post-crisis this feeling of goodwill will actually last. But despite all that, I still think it’s a nice thing to do. At the very least, it gives the nation a way to do something at a time when there is, quite literally, nothing else to be done.

I had an ‘interview’ with the ‘Bring Staff Back’ campaign last week – the people organising the return of ex-docs to the health service. It was a brief, informal phone call with a very nice lady to talk about my background and experience, as well as my availability and what I’m willing to do. I said I’d prefer something remote if possible. They said they’d send me potential roles soon, but I haven’t heard anything yet.

Despite being really conflicted about this question over whether to go back, I decided to get in touch with them in the end because I realised that it wouldn’t hurt to look at the options. If they offer me a position that seems acceptable and feasible, and my situation at the time allows me to do it, then fine. If not, then I’m not going to beat myself up about turning it down. At the end of the day, my daughter’s welfare is my priority. Oath or no oath, she comes first. Always.

But I would gladly go back and help if I could honestly believe that the NHS would behave with an ounce of decency towards me, i.e. treat me like a human being and not a robot. Current evidence is not looking good…

A friend shared a post on Facebook from a retired doctor who’d been offered a job recently – they posted a copy of the contract they’d been sent. It was ridiculous. Essentially it said things like “we decide where you work”, “we decide how much to pay you” and “you might be sent to another hospital, and if you do not comply you will be penalised”. It made me so angry to see it – another prime example of the demeaning way the NHS treats its staff.

And then there’s the news about NHS staff being prevented from speaking out about working conditions and PPE supplies. In this Guardian article there’s an extract from a memo sent to staff at Southend hospital, where I once worked:

“The posting of inappropriate social media commentary or the posting of photographs of staff in uniform who are not complying with IPC [infection prevention and control] standards and social distancing requirements is unacceptable. Such behaviour will be considered under the disciplinary policy.

“Now, perhaps more than ever, NHS staff are in the public eye and we have a responsibility to convey a professional image and to role model positive messages about social distancing. It would be very sad for moments of inappropriate or unprofessional behaviour to undermine the respect that we and our colleagues have from the public.”

I can’t even begin to describe how much this bullshit makes me fume. It’s cold, hard, psychological abuse. It’s basically saying what an abusive partner would say in a toxic relationship – ‘don’t you dare ruin my image by showing other people how hard I’m hitting you’. Also, it makes zero sense – how would highlighting PPE shortages be in any way setting a bad example? The public are very much in support of staff having adequate PPE since it might actually mean the diffierence between life and death for them and their loved ones. And what the fuck does it have to do with social distancing?

The Trust should be thanking the staff members who show the public what it’s really like, because it’s images of staff wearing bin bags and pleas from the frontline that have spurred charities and businesses into action – like those behind Med Supply Drive UK, who are getting PPE donations and delivering them to the frontline. All of this also puts pressure on politicians to do more about PPE. Trusts should be working with their staff to highlight the shortage, not trying to cover it up.

I’ve heard it myself from former colleagues and friends who have been silenced – their managers throwing hissy fits because they’ve dared to voice concerns over personal safety, jobs being put on the line because someone refuses to toe the party line, referral to the GMC once again being used as a threat to those disobediant doctors who dare to use their brains and speak truth to power. Isn’t it funny how, in the midst of a global pandemic, with tens of thousands of people dying, the system is still more interested in covering its own arse than actually saving lives?

I’m disgusted.

And then there are other things that don’t make sense – I’ve heard from locum doctors that they’re struggling to find work. I realise that, with elective and non-urgent work being cancelled, there might be less demand, but it seems odd to me that Trusts aren’t gearing up their local locum community at the moment. We’ve got trainees and permanent staff within hospitals working ridiculous hours at the moment, with no prospect of leave or a break any time soon, yet outside of hospitals we’ve got locums offering to help but left twiddling their thumbs. Seriously, what is going on? Oh yeah, NHS leadership is too busy stalking doctors and nurses on social media to bother with little things like innovative rota coordination during a national emergency.

Well, my wobble appears to be well and truly over – I am back to being gloriously disillusioned and wonderfully cynical, woo hoo! I would still go back and help if I’m needed and if it works for me and my daughter, but perhaps they wouldn’t want me after all… It’s dawning on me that I may just be a tad too outspoken…!

P.S. My Reflective Practice for Doctors pilot on Monday went brilliantly! I’ve been asked to do more, and I will try my level best! It’s tricky with my toddler at home, but I’m keen to do more, so watch this space!

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