At work blog



When accountants attack the tearoom


It is my job to report the grassroots issues that affect us employees within the NHS, and I warn herein that yet another cornerstone of our health service is now under increasing threat.

Forget hospital closures, ward closures and even bed closures. The accountants are now attacking the very soul of the system — the tearoom.

It is said that an army marches on its stomach. With the NHS army, that stomach is fuelled by caffeine, and up until recently my department’s tearoom was funded by consultant staff through a joint trust fund.

However, this apparently contravenes some arcane (unless you collect matchboxes and earwax) tax law, and staff now have to pay into a joint fund with a rotating administrator (how I wish that could be made true), with the inevitable consequence of a fridge full of three-quarter-empty milk cartons displaying various shades of green as they vie for the title of best culture medium.

One week in, and there are already heated arguments between secretaries about whose sugar sachet (never mind the fact that it has been lifted from the canteen) is whose, with drawers previously filled with stationery now containing padlocked plastic boxes full of biscuits.

At first, I thought this was just another way of enforcing the unwritten policy of decreasing efficiency by increasing complexity, but I am now secretly wondering whether this is a clever way of increasing revenue generated by the café at the front of the building.

A further piece of supportive evidence comes from our microbiology department, where the tearoom, rather worryingly, lies directly opposite where TB culturing takes place (presumably not bovine, and presumably not in tearoom fridge). Over the past fortnight, high-security metal doors have been erected, under the dubious excuse of a counterterrorism initiative. Everyone else in laboratory medicine knows the real reason is to create another obstacle to their hourly injection of caffeine.

We can’t even strike while the kettle’s hot, and picket the café without going into it. How on earth can you take industrial action without a nice cup of tea to keep you warm?

Hypocritus is a doctor and a BMA News columnist

Posted in:  Emergency medicine

Tags:  hospitals NHS management working environment


  • S Parker

    12 September 2012

    I agree with the broad gist of this article, however the suggestion that medical students spend time in a wheelchair is somewhat flawed.

    Near the beginning of the clinical phase of my medical school training we were given a day of "disability awareness" in which we had to put on blindfolds, try being in a wheelchair, wear glasses with prisms in, etc, and were told that it was so that we could experience what being disabled was like. Having empathy with disabled people is important, but putting a blindfold on for 20 minutes does NOT give one an insight into what being blind is like - when we got fed up we could simply take the blindfold off, which of course someone who is visually impaired cannot do.

    Before attending medical school I volunteered with after-school and respite care groups for children with learning difficulties, and also sailed on the tall ship Tenacious, where crew members of different physical abilities work alongside one another.

    What the Paralympics has shown us is real disabled people achieving amazing things. If we want to train doctors who have an understanding of disability politics and an awareness of the ways in which societal structures disable people with impairments, then I think that spending quality time with disabled people will provide deeper and more empathetic learning than having to spend a day in a wheelchair.

  • mocxtqgo

    3 February 2014


  • mocxtqgo

    3 February 2014