Dedicated to caring for the sick and vulnerable, junior doctors should expect to be supported and valued as they carry out their vital work.
But hundreds have revealed they are subjected to bullying and harassment at overstretched hospitals that have been plunged into a staffing crisis by a decade of savage Tory health cuts.
A Mirror investigation uncovered harrowing stories of young medics being denied drinking water during gruelling shifts, working for 15 hours on their feet non-stop and of uncaring managers tearing into them for breaking down in tears over the deaths of patients.
One was even accused of “stealing” surgical scrubs she took to wear after suffering a miscarriage at work.
The distraught woman finished her shift wearing blood-soaked trousers, instead of going home to rest.
Another got told off for merely splashing water over her face after losing a patient.
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Doctors are now quitting in their droves, leaving those left struggling to cope with a growing workload.
Our probe reveals the reality of working for an NHS which has been subject to a record funding squeeze and is 8,000 medics short.
Health chiefs vowed to investigate the Mirror’s evidence from 602 testimonials submitted to grass roots lobbying group Doctors Association UK.
I’d suffered recurrent miscarriages and one day it happened at work, I’d only found out I was pregnant the week before.
I wasn’t allowed to go home as we were already short-staffed.
I went to borrow some scrubs as I had bled through my trousers and was “caught” in the changing room and asked if I was a surgeon.
I said I was a medical doctor but was told off for “stealing scrubs”.
I explained what had happened and couldn’t help but get tearful. I was told that was “no excuse”. I worked the rest of my shift in my trousers.
Chairman Dr Rinesh Parmar said: “These heartbreaking stories from across the country show the extent of bullying and harassment that frontline doctors face whilst working to care for patients.
“Heartbreaking examples of being denied access to water after the tragic loss of a patient reveals how heartless and inhumane conditions can be.
“It is easy to see why the goodwill that the NHS relies upon has truly run dry.
“Doctors have spoken in their droves of being denied access to drinks, being accused of theft for eating a biscuit even though they’ve forgone breaks and this may be the only thing they eat or drink all day.
"A learned helplessness cannot be allowed to develop, it is vital that our doctors, the very backbone of our NHS are respected and looked after so that they’re at their very best when caring for patients.”
Dr Louis Lewis
I was first on call for medical admissions, the second on call was off sick, the foundation doctor was understandably taking a while with each patient.
There were 18 to see and counting. I had just watched a lady die in resus. I had been going for eight hours without a break. I got some water from the water cooler and drank it.
I got told not to drink in front of the patients as it gives the impression we’re not working hard enough and to wait until my break like everybody else by one of the senior A&E nurses.
I burst into tears. Said nurse didn’t notice. He was walking by at the time. I soldiered on.
Doctors Association UK wellbeing lead Dr Natalie Ashburner added: “It is extremely disappointing that doctors are reporting a lack of access to basic resources such as water at hospitals.
“The effect of these inconsiderate, short-sighted decisions on the physical and mental wellbeing of staff who work long, anti-social shifts under tremendous stress in a climate of unprecedented demand for already stretched resources should not be underestimated.
"The NHS is already haemorrhaging doctors. Trusts must urgently take measures to make the mental and physical wellbeing of doctors a priority, creating a compassionate culture and remembering doctors are human too.”
The first time I did CPR as a new doctor was one of the most awful experiences I’ve had. The patient was conscious as the compressions were enough to perfuse her brain. I now know this is rare but it was my first resus.
We couldn’t get her back and had to tell her she was dying. She was young and even the my seniors were affected by it.
Our mess was closed so I had nowhere to go. I stepped into the kitchen to splash some water on my face and was berated by a manager for “stealing”.
I was openly crying at this point. She said maybe I wasn’t tough enough to be a doctor and I should rethink my career. I left medicine not long after that.
The group compiled responses from closed online forums of medics.
Many said the events took place in their first year after completing medical school at the hands of ward or department managers – usually senior nurses. Being reduced to tears is a common theme.
NHS England Chief People Officer Prerana Issar said: “Our NHS staff should be able to eat, drink and rest during shifts and get support from their managers to take care of themselves, so we are keen to follow up these individual examples.
“The number of doctors working in the NHS continues to grow but we want to attract and retain even more to help improve patient care, and as part of that we are taking action to make the NHS the best place to work which includes improving culture and leadership at every level.”
Dr Natalie Ashburner
It was the first time I had ever spoken to somebody just minutes before they had gone into a cardiac arrest. I was sat crying in the doctors’ office, shocked and upset, when a nurse entered.
She saw me crying and said, “What’s your problem?” She asked me to hurry up and finish the discharge summaries I was doing for other patients on the ward.
I felt ashamed about that incident for a long time afterwards because, in showing my emotion, I felt that I had not behaved in a way expected of a doctor.
A recent poll found almost a third of doctors may be suffering from burnout, stress and “compassion fatigue”.
A&E medics and GPs are the most likely to feel burnt-out and have the highest levels of exhaustion and stress, according to the report in BMJ Open.
A separate study has found two-thirds of obstetricians and gynaecologists had encountered traumatic situations during labour and birth.
The NHS has some of the fewest doctors in proportion to the population compared to other developed nations.
My chair was taken away in A&E, apparently because patients didn’t like to see doctors sat down.
I worked 15 hours straight without sitting down, while pregnant. We also weren’t allowed water.
I fainted in the middle of the department at the end of my shift, I was mortified. I was then shouted at in front of everyone.
It was suggested it was my choice to be pregnant and no allowances would be made because I was the pregnant registrar. Looking back on it I’m sure this was illegal but there was no one I could go to.
There are 2.82 medics per 1,000 people, placing Britain sixth bottom out of 29 OECD nations.
The number of full-time equivalent doctors in the NHS increased by 23% from 95,602 in October 2009 to 117,149 by last year.
But that came alongside a huge increase in demand on their workload, thanks to the UK’s aging population, problems accessing GPs and cuts to public health budgets and social care in the community.
NHS funding increases have been at a record low of 1%, compared to a 4% historical average.
The Department of Health and Social Care said of our investigation: “These accounts are deeply distressing. This type of behaviour has no place in our NHS and nobody should have to face bullying or harassment in the workplace.
“We take these kinds of reports very seriously and we’re committed to making the NHS a better place to work.”
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