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Whilst we await a referendum on our new contract, something that has become crystal clear to me is that the entire medical profession is in desperate need of a culture change. We have been sleepwalking into this absolute mess for years. We’ve allowed a series of damaging changes to our working lives that have done nothing but destroy our morale and create a slow exodus of doctors out of the NHS.However, over the last few months it has become apparent that we, as a generation of doctors, have finally woken up from our slumber. We’ve seen thousands of doctors march through London, not once but twice since this contract dispute started. We’ve had protests across many cities in the country. We’ve gone on strike five times, including the first ever full walk out of junior doctors because we simply could not allow the Government to implement changes that would have been toxic for our patients and for our profession. We found our collective voice and it was very much heard.It is quite clear that much of the new contract attempts to solve longstanding problems within our working lives – the number of hours that we routinely work without recognition and the inadequate monitoring of hours, which has often been abused by those in positions of power. Many of the potential solutions for these problems in the contract have a common theme: they each require a real engagement from us to be effective. That is no bad thing. We know the system better than anyone – we live it every single day. We know what works and we know what doesn’t work and we are the ones that should be leading the way in making positive changes in our working lives. We need to be the change that we want to see.
Regardless of the outcome of this contract dispute, it is incredibly important that we keep our spirit alive to ensure we continue to fight for safe and fair working conditions, along with high quality training opportunities at both local and national levels.
Many surgical colleagues of mine share their fears of being belittled if they say they feel overworked or unsafe to operate. The fear of reprisal for demanding safe working hours must end and it must end now. Many others have shared with me that they feel uncomfortable claiming for “pay for all work done” as described under the new contract because they don’t believe things will change or that anyone cares about what they give to the NHS every single day for free. They are so used to giving everything and taking nothing that it’s become a despairing mentality that has been ingrained into their very core. We have to break through this learned helplessness and remember just how much we are worth.
If I have learnt anything from this dispute it is that we, as a profession, should value ourselves. We are doctors, not martyrs and we should be standing up for ourselves as professionals as well as human beings. This realisation must go beyond the realm of this contract dispute and we should all remember this every single day from now on.
There is so much scope for engagement and improvement within our own working lives on a day-to-day basis. There always has been but we never quite realised. We just waited patiently for the next disheartening policy that, despite how much we love our jobs would make us resent how much we have sacrificed to get here just that little bit more. I remember watching a colleague try on a wedding dress on her lunch break because she wasn’t given the time off for a dress fitting. I can still see the tears streaming down her face as her bleep continued to alarm loudly. I remember being told there was “no such thing as not being able to work” despite giving 12 months notice to attend my own sister’s wedding. Sadly, we all have examples like this. Examples which have slowly torn down our morale and broken our spirits.
However, we must remember that it was our generation of 54,000 junior doctors that refused to be bullied by a Health Secretary who did everything in his power to smear and disparage us. In turn, there is absolutely no reason why we cannot refuse to be bullied by own managers on a local level who may, at times, be unreasonable or take unjustified shortcuts to our detriment. It is time that we showed them that we have overcome our learned helplessness and we are no longer afraid to fight back.
Regardless of what happens over the next few months, every single doctor should engage with every process possible to make positive steps forwards in our working lives. No one will protect us if we are not willing to protect ourselves. Many of us have been guilty of sitting on the sidelines with a bucket of criticism whilst others try to fight our battles for us. It’s now time for all of us to get off the bench and join the game.