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The NHS I work in is a sinking ship – strike action is the only way we can save it


4 min read

What would drive a doctor to strike? Negligence, ignorance, and abuse. I fear that your distance makes this easy. But the esteem of the high office does not absolve responsibility, and I have no intention of allowing it for the sake of politeness.

The anger of the medical profession is understandably palpable.  I would imagine that politicians feel aggrieved at the anger toward them. However, at some point, we need to face the responsibility that comes with the power of public service. I do not have a choice to avoid it when someone collapses in front of me, so neither should you. Your anger is a luxury.  

Doctors do not have the protection of distance. The anger you experience is the result of sustained neglect of good people who are losing faith in the system you so unashamedly boast about. We now find ourselves in a stalemate where healthcare staff and the government are opposed.  

To ask people to weather the storm without being shown their value is tantamount to abuse, and that’s how many of us feel, used and abused

And with over a decade of failing services regardless of a tumult of warnings from the frontlines, we can be forgiven for feeling abandoned and left to rot.  

The number of staff vacancies speaks for itself, but they have not appeared without warning. The public knows this too. No matter how the media will portray it, a trip to our striking emergency rooms will be macabrely enlightening.  You cannot hide the results of your failures when there is blood on the floor.  

As a psychiatrist, I work with some of the most vulnerable and the system is failing them. We cannot provide the care needed, and many of us are leaving. Those who remain do so with a sense of shame, anticipating becoming the target of understandable vitriol and disappointment. We are ashamed to be doctors who cannot provide care and we are taking the blame for the actions of politicians.   

When the ship is sinking, people leave. And we are leaving, not because we want to, but because we have no choice. Putting it simply, to ask people to weather the storm without being shown their value is tantamount to abuse, and that’s how many of us feel, used and abused.  

I have read hundreds of stories; young people dying whilst in queues in the emergency department, staff leaving with depression and simply searching for a better life. Strikes are a symptom of a broken system, just another way of communicating desperation. And now this is one of the last warnings we can give you.  

When we suffer, we are expected to show the way forward. Nurses are expected to cover for several empty posts, one doctor for two hundred cases. The NHS has struggled to keep going and we have found strength in our responsibility. Hiding from the truth of such chaos is no bravery, it is a dereliction of duty.   

But, with any system, fate is dictated by the choices of those in power. And the choices made are enabling death here.  You cannot rely on goodwill forever, especially when you abuse those you rely on. And you cannot leave them to take the fall for your shortcomings. We will not be party to the death of the NHS, the loss of our patients, nor the negligence of ignorant leaders. 

Your NHS has become unwell, and now you stand in the same shoes we do, you have to act.  Like us, you no longer have the luxury of ignorance or distance. You need to take responsibility. Be the cure, not the cause. If you want an NHS, you need to step up and stop letting healthcare staff pay for your ignorance and complacency. And the solution is easy, reach into your pockets and value your NHS.  

See you on strike day.  


Dr Benjamin Janaway is an NHS psychiatrist.

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