My Celebrity Life

This is Going to Hurt is a true reflection of what life is like for NHS doctors

I found this series to be a welcome departure from the nauseating, overly-glamourised medical dramas I’ve avoided watching (Picture: BBC/Sister/AMC/Ludovic Robert)

When I sat down to watch This is Going to Hurt this weekend, I was prepared for it to be difficult viewing.

I’d enjoyed the book – relating to Adam Kay’s funny anecdotes involving patients and colleagues, as well as empathising with the strain he was under as an NHS doctor.

I was not disappointed to discover that the television adaptation maintained its unadulterated and raw storytelling.

We watch Ben Whishaw flawlessly embody Adam, as he guides us through the good, the bad, and occasionally ugly moments he encounters working as a junior doctor.

I’ve been a doctor since 2016 and now work between intensive care and theatre.

As someone working in the world of medicine, I found this series to be a welcome departure from the nauseating, overly-glamourised medical dramas I’ve avoided watching, because of how truly it represents our experiences.

We meet Adam just as he is promoted to ‘acting registrar’ – a position held by a doctor undertaking advanced training in a specialist field. Suddenly he finds himself with a mountain of responsibility in one of the most stressful parts of the hospital – the labour ward.

Working alongside Adam is the enthusiastic but inexperienced Shruti Acharya (played brilliantly by Ambika Mod) and they build a working friendship despite his brutal sarcasm and countless jibes about her knowledge and skills.

It’s tough watching the inevitability of it all – she begins her journey incredibly enthusiastically, but the way she’s treated by patients, colleagues and in particular the system, turns her passion into a flickering flame hopelessly burning out.

The bitter truth of it is, every NHS hospital probably has many doctors and nurses who feel just like Shruti. It’s something we’ve all experienced at some stage, but it’s probably more common now since the pandemic changed our working lives.

We later see her opening up to a consultant she looks up to. She confides in her that she feels overwhelmed, that she feels like a fraud and asks where the support is for the traumatic things she’s seen at work.

Her consultant callously replies ‘are you sure you’re in the right job?’. There is an inherited mentality that part of being a good doctor means you have to be categorically resilient regardless of what you go through.

We’re often told it’s what we’re paid to do. If this antiquated ‘don’t be afraid to cope’ attitude has improved at all since Adam Kay was a doctor, it’s because the pandemic has made it impossible for NHS leaders to ignore staff wellbeing.

A 2021 study revealed that almost half of ICU staff are struggling with anxiety, depression or drinking. As of December, 79% of those leaving the profession said it was due to the demands of their current role adversely impacting their wellbeing.

In between all the chaos, there were some reminders of why both Shruti and Adam ever wanted to pursue a career in medicine. After a life-saving procedure in the emergency department, Adam walks away knowing that his quick thinking saved the life of a mother and her newborn.

These vindicating moments are certainly something I can relate to. I often think about the patients who are admitted with little chance of survival to the intensive care. Sometimes I’ve lost hope internally, feeling as though all the things we were doing to keep someone alive might be failing before they eventually go on to make a recovery. Seeing these patients leave the intensive care alive is incredibly rewarding.

One of the best feelings for me is when an emergency patient, who has been sedated on a breathing tube for weeks or months, is finally well enough to have the tube removed. After weeks of caring for them, we get to hear their voice for the first time.

The occasions a doctor or nurse might feel this way may justify the years of hard work and relentless sacrifices that might have come before.

In the series, we see Shruti come of age when she provides life-saving care for a patient who suffers a complication from childbirth.

Adam has seen her grow in confidence and competence and he uncharacteristically tells her he’s proud of her. She defeatedly responds ‘you’re only as good as your last patient’.

Adam walks into the next shift to find out that Shruti had taken her own life. This was an incredibly poignant scene, particularly as we watch her unsuspecting parents hear the news.

Based on data from the Office of National Statistics from 2018, a healthcare professional takes their own life every three and a half days in the UK.

I didn’t know this when I started writing this. I didn’t know this because nobody talks about it. But if we’re not open about it, then healthcare professionals won’t realise it’s a common problem and seeking help for our mental health will remain stigmatised.

This was a sobering end to a series that brought to life Adam Kay’s witness statement on life on the frontline. It forces us to face some hard truths, and perhaps ask more questions of the leaders who might have a role to play in changing things.

This is Going to Hurt has forced me to reflect on my own choices (Picture: BBC/Sister/AMC/Anika Molnar)

At the end of the book that inspired the series, Adam Kay wrote an open letter to the previous health secretary – Jeremy Hunt, asking him to spend a day in the shoes of a junior doctor. In a wonderful example of British protest, Hunt was later inundated with copies of Adam’s book by readers.

This led to them meeting – although I imagine quite reluctantly from the Health Secretary’s side. When Hunt was asked about his thoughts on the rising number of junior doctors leaving the NHS, he briefly lifted his head out of the sand to say he didn’t ‘recognise’ the official figures presented to him.

As reported in September last year, there are now well over 90,000 unfilled vacancies in the NHS in England. This number continues to rise and last year, NHS England reported a record-breaking number of NHS staff voluntarily resigning from their jobs – 27,000 over a period of three months.

This is a cruel twist of the knife to the 6million patients stuck on a waiting list for NHS treatment. There are currently 200 times more people waiting over a year for treatment compared to before the pandemic. This is a monumental and miserable backlog, which spins the most vicious cycles.

Less staff to shoulder the burden has meant existing healthcare workers are working beyond their capacity to meet these rising demands, and in turn they too will become more exhausted, burnt out and forced to give up.

It’s comedic irony that the chair of the Health Select Committee that questioned the Health Secretary about his plans to clear this same backlog was Jeremy Hunt himself.

In this meeting in November, Hunt told Sajid Javid that ‘we have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not we are training enough doctors and nurses for the future’. He responded, in part, by saying: ‘I am very comfortable with more accountability and more transparency.’

Hunt interrupted him at one stage to ask what he’s going to do to retain staff. What a pitiful state of affairs that the man who infamously went to war with an entire generation of doctors, is asking the Health Secretary what he might do to plug the gaping hole at the bottom of a sinking ship.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter how many more medical and nursing students there are going to be in 10 years if they reach their dream jobs and realise they’re going to be as overworked, undervalued and abused as Adam and Shruti.

This is Going to Hurt has forced me to reflect on my own choices. For better or worse, I still remain encouraged by the rewarding moments in my day.

I still feel a sense of purpose when I wake up, and a sense of pride when I go to sleep, knowing I was able to help someone in their hour of need.

But I also appreciate that this is unsustainable without true change in how junior doctors and nurses are treated at work and empathising with the colleagues that were unable to continue.

Sadly, there is no future to a health service without a sustainable workforce able to provide it.

 


Credit: Source

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