Dear Mr Hunt
I am writing to you on the eve of of what could be the announcement of the first all out strike of doctors in history. I myself am a nurse not a doctor but my husband is a junior doctor, having completed six years of medical school and four years of in-hospital training to get to where he is today.
I am incredibly proud of him; his patience with his young and often frightened patients, his caring nature that means he spends hours talking to often distraught and sometimes angry parents and his endless striving to become a better doctor.
But you already know all these things.
You know the years of training all junior doctors have completed, the long hours they work and the even longer hours of overtime they all put in so that patient care is as safe and effective as possible. You know that many of them have families and loved ones and that they struggle to balance their careers and families. You also know, although you many not wish to admit it, that they are compassionate, dedicated, empathetic people and it is these traits that drew them to the profession in the first place.
You know all these things and yet so far they have failed to make any sort of impact upon you so instead I’d like to tell you a story.
When our son was four months old my husband was called to attempt to resuscitate a baby bought in to the emergency department in the early hours of the morning. The parents had woken, expecting their baby to need feeding but instead finding her pale and un-moving.
The doctors, nurses and paramedics did everything that they could but their efforts were ultimately futile and the baby died.
My husband came home from work that night and sobbed as he told me how they’d tried to save the baby.
We’d moved our little boy into his own room only a few days before and my husband ran into the nursery and scooped our son into his arms. He held him so tightly that that our little one woke up and started crying, a sound that must have been in such contrast to the terrifying silence that greeted those parents when they woke.
My husband hardly slept that night, so frightened was he that something similar would happen to our little boy. As our baby slept soundly he sat beside his cot, watching him breathe, knowing that in another house just like ours there were two parents who would never watch their baby sleep again.
That night and for several months afterwards our son continued to sleep in a cot beside our bed before my husband was ready for him to move back into his own room. The little girl’s death is something that will stay with him for years, if not forever and I am painfully aware that she is far from the only patient that he carries with him.
Yet the next day he got up and went back to work, knowing that this shift or the next or indeed any shift could easily be just as harrowing.
Even before he qualified my husband knew that he would see things that would stay with him forever. He knew that choosing to work with children would mean that there would be some patients who would hit very close to home and that there would be cases that he would find particularly difficult to deal with.
He also knew that he would be required to work antisocial hours and that there would be times when work would have to come before me and our son. There have been many evenings when he has come home late and our little boy has already been asleep, nights when …
He knew all these things and yet he still chose to dedicate his career to caring for others because that is the sort of person that he is.
My husband is not ‘militant’ Mr Hunt, nor is he greedy, uncaring or unrealistic. He does not wish to endanger patients or compromise the care they receive to meet his own ends. His actions are not shocking or selfish nor is his vote in support of a strike ‘appalling’, he has simply run out of ideas as to how to get through to you.
Neither he nor his colleagues want a strike to happen yet they have exhausted all other avenues of making you listen to them.
The junior doctors of the NHS want safe working conditions that are beneficial to them, the staff that they work with and to their patients. They are not asking for their current conditions to be improved, their hours reduced or their pay increased or for any other changes to be made to their existing contracts.
They are simply asking that the government respects them for their role; the hours that they put in, the stressful and emotional nature of their role, the years of training already completed and the many years still left to do.
By insisting on reducing the number of working hours classed as antisocial but at the same time increasing the number of weekends and nights the junior doctors work you will create a workforce that is exhausted and demoralised. This will only be compounded by the knowledge that the government does not respect them enough to ensure that their pay properly reflects the hours that they work and the percentage of those hours that are classed as antisocial.
I do not know what will happen if the junior doctors vote for the strike to go ahead and you continue on your seemingly hellbent path to destroy the morale of the junior doctors. We who work for the NHS are well aware that although you may start with the junior doctor contracts you will not stop there and that if the doctors are required to work more anti-social hours for less pay then I cannot see that you will only make changes to their contracts. Although it is only the junior doctor contract currently set to change it will have a direct impact upon every single staff group that works within the NHS.
What I do know however, is that if you continue on your current course and make the proposed changes to the junior doctor contract, the NHS will change and it will not be for the better.
There may well come a day when another set of parents wakes to silence and their baby is rushed to hospital under blue lights and screaming sirens.
The staff will try just as hard to save that baby.
They will try to comfort the parents, knowing that they do not have the words to even begin to help them cope with the grief of losing a child.
They will go home, hold their children that little bit tighter and they will wonder whether they can do this anymore.
Louise is a full time mum, a part time neonatal nurse and award nominated blogger who has battled depression for many years but was particularly ill during her pregnancy. She lives with her husband (the Northern One) their little boy (Squidge) and their three guinea pigs who live in the kitchen.
Louise blogs at 23weeksocks (http://23weeksocks.com) about lots of different (and seemingly unconnected) topics that she’s passionate about, including mental health, antenatal depression, neonatal care and baby loss. She’s also involved in #MatExp (https://www.facebook.com/groups/MatExp/); an online maternity experience campaign that was formed to help improve maternity services in the UK. As part of this she hosts the #MatExpHour Twitter chat every Friday and would love to see you there.