Louise Congdon, 28, is a paediatric trainee at Bristol Children’s Hospital. She joined up to 38,000 fellow junior doctors across the UK who went on strike yesterday over Jeremy Hunt’s new proposals for their working hours and pay. Here, she explains why she has no regrets about taking industrial action.
“Making a doctor angry is actually a pretty difficult thing to do. So the fact that medics across the country went on strike at all yesterday should tell people just how serious the new proposals are, and just what a slap in the face they are for hardworking doctors. I would love Jeremy Hunt to come and do a 72-hour shift, and see children dying, and then tell me I’m not pulling my weight.
Doctors are quite balanced and usually pretty even-handed – apparently this is the only picket line where police didn’t even bother to consider getting involved. They must have thought it would be much too civilised! I don’t feel like we’re a difficult bunch, so for us to make a stand should show that we’ve been pushed too far. New proposals would see doctors working longer hours for around a third less money, and I just don’t see how it’s at all possible. Last week I was rostered to work 81 hours but ended up working more than that. For us, the standard 40-hour week is what part-time staff do. I work every second or third weekend and often work 12 days straight – I don’t mind as it’s what I signed up to do, but I think it shows we’re already at breaking point.
The label “junior doctor” is misleading and people seem to think you’re a junior doctor for one or two years, but that’s not the case at all. The majority of doctors are junior! I’m a paediatric trainee, which means six years of med school then two years as a foundation doctor, and then eight years training, so 16 years in total – and for that whole time I’ll be a junior doctor. And that’s if you don’t go part-time, you don’t have children, you don’t take any years out. So it’s really fucking long.
I would love Jeremy Hunt to come and do a 72-hour shift, and see children dying, and then tell me I’m not pulling my weight
Every single doctor will have made some kind of sacrifice to get to where they are. I’ve wanted to do this job forever, so it’s not a problem, but the things we forgo show how much we love our jobs. For example, I know that I won’t be able to have children for a long time because I want to prioritise my patients and my career. I still want to have kids but I will probably do it later than I would if I wasn’t a doctor, because if I go part-time I’ll be a trainee for 14 years, taking me well into my 40s. Because of this, lots of doctors have children later.
Our social lives also inevitably suffer. There are so many examples that it’s hard to pick, but the most recent one was not being able to go to one of my best friend’s wedding in Thailand in November. Even with months of notice, there’s no way I’d have been able to get the time off. The new proposals will put an even greater strain on our personal lives, which we are entitled to. Because people are already at breaking point, lots of junior doctors are quitting and going to Australia or New Zealand because they have a better work-life balance. In fact, just yesterday one of my colleagues handed in their notice. They’d had enough.
This is the thing – the emotional strain of the job also cannot be overlooked. Most doctors will have cried after a difficult shift. If anything goes wrong then it’s devastating. Last week an eight-year old boy died when I was working. As doctors, we take it all in our stride during our shift, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t cry afterwards.
For these reasons, I have no regrets about going on strike. Patient safety will not have been compromised yesterday, consultants knew what was happening and "scrubbed in". Patients will have had the same care as normal. I want people to understand that no-one wanted to strike, no-one wanted it to happen. I’m devastated that this is what it’s come to, but I would do it again. The NHS functions on goodwill, and if we lose that, it will collapse.”
As told to Helen Nianias