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Carry on striving

If NHS employers have their way we will be in for another year of pay freezes, and despite what the Daily Mail would have us believe, if I start on the specialty training programme of my choice, my take-home salary will be cut next year.

In parallel, I have been following the party conference season. The rhetoric from the Conservatives has been that of ‘supporting the strivers’. I like the sentiment, and yet I’m still waiting for the deeds to match the rhetoric.

You see, as doctors we work hard — we strive. So do the nurses, the porters, the healthcare assistants, and the myriad of other supporting professions. And yet to what reward?

A good friend of mine is an audiologist who has just found out that she must work Saturdays, because the audiology department must out-compete any other willing provider. But we already have a great audiology service at our trust. Employee morale in her department has never been so low.

On the wards, the nursing staff clings tenuously to their current bandings and contracts. Men and women with 30 years of experience are having an ever lower value placed on their service.

It is my belief that the government has a rose-tinted view of life in the NHS, perhaps gleaned from the occasional PR visit to a shining ward filled with smiling patients who love their NHS. This is far from the truth. I worked nights last week and, let me tell you, my patients don’t smile. From the drug-user with chest pain, who self-discharged against advice, to the confused old man who took a swing at me, and the chronic alcohol misuser deprived of his drink and under police custody. There are no polite ‘thanks’ at 3am, no pleasant cards or smiling patients.

There is no night when nobody dies: every battle won is still against an enemy who will one day win the war. I don’t see this as exceptional — it is the norm, it is the same for every doctor the length and breadth of the country, for every nurse, porter and healthcare assistant.

We work in a profession where the stress, responsibility and shift patterns are recognised to have a negative impact on both physical and mental health, where the levels of divorce, alcoholism and suicide are disproportionately high.

So this is my problem. I enjoy my job — most of the time — it is ever changing, fascinating and challenging but it’s also tough, for everyone.

And this is what the government is missing out on. There was a time when at the age of 65 you could leave with a pat on the back and a good pension. A time when pay rose with the cost of living and where the NHS was all there was and it was valued.

And now? What we have given is not enough. After all, any willing provider can just step in and take our place. Our pay doesn’t need to rise with the cost of living, and retirement is a moving target, ever further away as it approaches.

So this is a warning, from a Tory voter to her government. There is a crisis in the NHS and it is not necessarily financial, it is a crisis of morale. And if you would have us carry on striving, you must act.

Zoe Greaves is a South Tees foundation year 2 and a member of the BMA Junior Doctors Committee