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'Your Life in My Hands: A Junior Doctor’s Story' by Rachel Clarke

A Book Review

By Susie KearleyPublished 5 months ago 3 min read
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(c) Susie Kearley

I’ve just finished reading a book written by an NHS junior doctor from the UK, who explains how difficult it is working in hospitals, with long hours, too many demands on your time, and not enough staff.

The book begins brilliantly, explaining when, straight out of medical school, Rachel felt ill-equipped to work in a real-life hospital setting. She felt completely out of her depth but got on with the job as best she could and settled into working life fairly quickly.

She tells stories of patients she encountered along the way — all disguised of course, for confidentiality.

I really enjoyed the first part of the book where she felt like an intruder into a profession where she felt ill-prepared. She got on and did her job as best she could, taking advice from senior physicians as necessary. Some of the patient outcomes were positive and left her buzzing. Others were more difficult, challenging and upsetting.

The tales of patients’ woes and clinical experiences made a good read, but the book then degenerated into a party political broadcast for the Labour Party — or more accurately, a very long moan about the Conservative Party.

Jeremy Hunt, who used to be Health Secretary for the governing Conservative Party, was trying to get the NHS to cover a 7 day week, arguing that more patients died at weekends due to lack of staff on weekends and inadequate care.

He changed all NHS doctors’ contracts to try to force them to work more weekends. But they refused to sign the new contracts and went on strike instead.

The author argued that working more weekends would have meant doctors worked fewer hours in the week, leaving weekdays short-staffed. She said the plan for a 7 day NHS was a good plan, but that it was completely inappropriate without the government coming up with additional funding to recruit weekend staff. Spreading existing staff more thinly would not help. It would only take doctors away from their families at weekends.

The book describes the doctors’ first strike — and how people reacted to the doctors on the picket lines. They received a lot of support from the public, and some police officers at the scene were encouraging them to fight against the changes.

The strikers clashed with the government. The media were saying it was about pay, but it wasn’t only about pay.

It’s an interesting read, but unfortunately, most of the book is about the conflict, and this started to bore me after a while. Doctors are still striking today, although today it *is* about pay.

Rachel eventually quit the NHS to write, but she missed the medical work, so she returned to work as a doctor in a hospice environment, instead of a hospital, which she found more to her liking.

The book talks about hospital wards being full, there being no beds, and having to delay surgeries because of a lack of beds.

But when my mum was in hospital there were loads of empty beds on her ward. So I don’t really understand why hospitals can’t jig things around to use the empty beds in some wards if others have run out. Perhaps circumstances differ in different hospitals.

The book is an interesting read, but it’s too political for my tastes.

It does leave me lacking confidence in the NHS, but I didn’t have much confidence in the NHS to start with. They’ve made too many mistakes on my watch already, and I’ve never even been seriously ill!

Would I recommend the read? It depends on your appetite for politics. If you’re a staunch left-winger, with a particular dislike of the Conservative Party, you might find it very agreeable, but it might make you angry, so it’s probably not a good bedtime read.

If you prefer to avoid politics, you’ll probably enjoy the bits I enjoyed and find some of the other stuff tiresome.

Whatever your political stance, it does give a valuable insight to the workings of the NHS, and some of the issues people working there face. It’s probably worthwhile reading for anyone considering entering the medical profession, so some of the experiences don’t come as too much of a shock, later down the line.

© Susie Kearley 2023. All Rights Reserved.

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