Social Justice

The NHS is 'past the point of no return' say junior doctors bearing the brunt of the NHS crisis

Doctors are using social media to voice their frustrations.

Junior doctors protested over cuts in 2015, when Chancellor Jeremy Hunt was health secretary. Image: Rohin Francis/Flickr

Doctors have been raising their concerns and voicing their frustrations on social media as the crisis in the NHS leads to waiting times spiralling out of control and reports of hundreds dying each week while waiting for care.

Underfunding and pressures from Covid and winter flu have stretched hospitals to breaking point, with nurses and junior doctors bearing the brunt of increased stress.

On Reddit, one person wrote, “It’s clear that the emergency department has had a huge increase in the number of patients but they have not increased the number of doctors. I went home a few weeks ago at 10pm with 38 patients waiting to be seen.”

Another said, “Every shift is like this now. Five years ago, we had 50 patients waiting in the department during handover to night shift, and now we have 180. It used to be around 20 patients waiting to be seen with a 1-2 hour wait for a clinician, and it’s now 60-70 patients with a 10 hour wait.”

Many junior doctors on the r/JuniorDoctorsUK, a community on Reddit, say the situation is untenable, and are “tired” of the empty promises made by politicians and the “broken healthcare system”. Some of them say their shifts are “non-stop” and they are struggling to cope with the “mental exhaustion” they are facing.

The NHS has “gone past the point of no return,” according to one Redditor, who said people are simply not aware of the “true gravity of the situation.” 

Another told the Big Issue, simply: “It’s all fucked.”

An ageing population and a decade of underfunding have led to much higher demand for health services while resources have been stretched to breaking point. People are living longer and needing more care, but stagnant wages and Brexit have meant professionals are leaving the NHS in droves.

Those that remain are struggling to keep patients safe and resorting to strike action, demanding better pay and working conditions to attract staff back.

Some doctors said they have often been forced to take on extra work and work longer hours than they should, as well as getting calls on their personal phones outside of working hours – all for no extra pay. 

Several other posts are calls-to-action, encouraging other junior doctors to “know what you’re worth” and say that it is “unacceptable” this crisis has been allowed to happen – with patients and doctors alike suffering the consequences of underfunding, overwork, and exhaustion. 

A survey by the BMA released in December found four in 10 junior doctors planned to leave the NHS if they can find another job. Poor pay and working conditions were among the main reasons for them wanting to go. 

A junior doctor in the UK currently earns between £29,384 and £34,012, which the BMA previously said was a real terms pay cut of 26.1 percent compared to 2008.

A third of the survey’s respondents said they wanted to work as doctors abroad. Professor Philip Banfield, chair of the BMA, said the NHS “will simply not be able to cope” with this proposed exodus of junior doctors.

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A spokesperson for EveryDoctor, a grassroots advocacy group led by doctors, told the Big Issue: “Today, junior doctors all across the country are struggling with a situation that feels like a complete breakdown of the NHS. Junior doctors are overworked to exhaustion as a result of dangerous staffing shortages and a shocking under-investment in the health service by recent governments.” 

“The longer these problems remain unsolved, the more doctors and nurses will quit, exacerbating the situation further. These problems are not unsolvable – but require political will. We need proper investment in the health service and better working conditions and pay for doctors so that they can be persuaded to stay,” the spokesperson, who is a junior doctor himself, added. 

However, the government has said they are “confident we are providing the NHS with the funding it needs,” and cited lingering backlogs from the pandemic and winter illnesses as reasons for the pressures the NHS faces.

Nurses protesting in Westminster, January 2021. Medical staff are continuing to fight for better pay and working conditions in the NHS. (Credit: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona/Unsplash)

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When asked if the service was in crisis, a spokesperson for the prime minister said, “This is certainly an unprecedented challenge for the NHS, brought about by a number of factors.”

Doctors have since accused Rishi Sunak of being “delusional.”

A few posts in the subreddit suggested the government were hiding “behind the Covid blanket of blame” and are failing “to take accountability for the demise of our NHS.”

Dr Rob Laurenson, co-chair of the junior doctors committee at the BMA, told the Big Issue that winter illnesses are putting “more pressure on the system,” but also cited factors such as funding and staffing shortages as reasons for the crisis.

He continued, “Junior doctors’ morale is at rock bottom. The government has treated patients and staff abysmally over a sustained period of time and doctors are asking themselves ‘do any of us deserve this?’”

Dr Laurenson said the government needs to “take the issues facing the NHS seriously and properly fund it,” as well as “paying junior doctors fairly.” 

The BMA will be balloting junior doctors for industrial action on January 9.

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future.

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