In the last two years I have been writing this column I have been lucky enough to engage with people from across the health system.
I have had conversations with doctors and medical students from a range of specialties at different stages in their careers.
I know our employers, regulators and the stakeholders who hold great influence and sway on our working lives have been reading, too. I would like to address our members, stakeholders and employers at a particularly important time of the year.
Across the country junior doctors have been going through the ‘changeover’ process in recent days and weeks.
Starting a new job, working on a different ward or moving specialty can be incredibly challenging and daunting. For some this can mean moving cities or countries, struggling financially and we know the impact on friends and family is great, too. To doctors who find themselves in this position I want to tell you that we know how difficult it can be – the BMA is here for you.
And to employers and stakeholders I urge you to be as supportive as you possibly can and do the right thing, by doctors and patients. I qualified in 2011 and have never worked in a fully staffed rota. I remember being in rooms where senior staff and managers were trying to fill gaps and have experienced being pressurised in those situations – being told I could be reported to the GMC if I don’t help and being told that they ‘can’t just knit doctors’ so I would have to fall into line.
Working in an NHS which is so under-resourced and under-staffed never becomes easier but in those early days of great change when you may feel vulnerable and uncertain these experiences are particularly difficult. And the truth is, that while many might say doing extra shifts or hours is necessary to ensure patient safety this is just a false economy.
If patient safety is truly our concern then we must protect doctors from burnout and exhaustion. If patient safety is truly our concern then we must stop filling these gaps as a short-term fix and commit to retaining the workforce and training and recruiting a sustainable future workforce. Changeover can be a positive time for many people, when career progression is highlighted and when we have opportunities to form new teams.
However, I have heard countless examples already of doctors being taken advantage of or treated badly. The BMA will not stand for this sort of behaviour and will support junior doctors who face similar issues. You are entitled to proper inductions, your employers must adhere to the code of practice and to six weeks’ notice for rotas and giving leave requested.
There are so many other things, things that may seem small but can really have an effect, too. For example, having car-parking permits available and ready, sorting ID quickly, making sure there are sufficient and appropriate places to rest, particularly during or after shift work.
Again – we know this isn’t happening. To doctors rotating – and particularly if you are starting foundation year 1 – you should not be threatened with GMC referral, told that you are breaking your contract, or that you simply have to deal with whatever your employer says. This is where we can help you.
And to people in senior positions applying this sort of pressure – stop now. We know from our members this is happening and it is not acceptable. While I appreciate there can be stress involved in dealing with rotas it is incumbent on you to make sure situations are being dealt with fairly and doctors are not damaged by your actions.
The BMA is here for you – our members. And membership is free until October 2022. Join us, allow us to support you. We will protect you.
Dr Latifa Patel is chair of the BMA representative body