The increasing pressure on junior doctors today

Dr Matt Jameson Evans, Chief Medical Officer, HealthUnlocked

This week around 6000 newly qualified doctors step foot into hospital wards, clinics and surgeries across the UK. It’s a week that will likely mark their memories for the rest of their lives.

Although for me it was a long time ago now, the feeling of excitement and terror of during those very first few days is one I remember vividly when drugs, protocols, procedures and other people’s lives were in my hands for the first time. Beyond the mountain of policies and checklists, the navigation of arcane computer systems and labyrinthine hospital corridors lay the real fear of doing harm instead of good to the unfortunates entrusted into my care. Would I fail Hippocrates at the first hurdle?

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I survived, as did my patients, largely due to the incredible role experienced staff nurses and ward sisters play during those first few days, intertwining the roles of mentor, psychotherapist and safety compliance officer for new doctors (along with a healthy dose of ego-pricking sarcasm). For me other big career firsts lay ahead: first lead on cardiac arrest or a road traffic trauma call, my first solo operation and so on. But looking back that very first week as a doctor is always the most vivid.

2016 is a particularly noteworthy August handover, as it will be the first rotation within the NHS since it was announced that the new junior doctor contract would be imposed by the government. A few days ago, at HealthUnlocked, we surveyed almost 4000 of our patient members from across England. We asked whether they agreed that junior doctors had been right to reject the government’s proposed contract. Overwhelmingly we found that 65 per cent agreed with the junior doctors that they were right to refuse it.

HealthUnlocked is a health and wellbeing platform, visited by many of the same people I was treating in my first week as a doctor on the wards, patients with long-term ‘chronic’ conditions. On our platform patients turn to each other for help, information, advice and peer to peer support, to help manage their condition. What strikes me most about our survey results is that nearly half of our members attend at least six clinical visits every year and over 85 per cent of our of them have a long term condition. These are the people that any ongoing dispute, strike or disruption to service will most directly affect.

There is a very political debate around the dispute between the doctors and the government. But there is a very clear human sign here of how the patients and the public feel about our junior doctors and of the personal struggle they face alongside their patients. To improve the lives of those who put themselves in their care they must be able to improve their knowledge, confidence and skills in a career that can nurture as well as challenge them.

On behalf of HealthUnlocked and all our members, we wish all new doctors the best of luck in their new roles and a very successful career.

Dr Matt Jameson Evans worked in the NHS as an orthopaedic surgeon before co-founding HealthUnlocked. HealthUnlocked is the largest social network dedicated to health in the world. It has over 600 health-specific communities, over three million monthly users, and its own health-specific artificial intelligence. It connects patients with conditions like arthritis or cancer to solve day to day challenges together, partnering with voluntary sector organisations and the NHS to safeguard advice and support.


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