Ruth Bonnington: Thoughts on the NHS from a GP

ruth_bonningtonAs I sit at the bedside of my dying father at 04h30 in a small palliative care unit in the Scottish Borders I wonder about lots of things and about how I love the NHS (and NHS Scotland).

I’ve worked in the NHS since I qualified in 1987 and have been a GP in Gateshead for 21 years.

I love my work—the patients, the dedicated practice staff, my varied and supportive colleagues, those in the practice and the locality and those in secondary care. The place is filled with caring, conscientious, and intelligent practitioners. That’s not to say things don’t go wrong but there is a lot of endeavoring. Endeavoring to care well, be patient centered, to get it right for each person, to set up systems that work to keep patients safe, and protect staff from harmful errors.

There are days when I feel overwhelmed after 10 hours of seeing patients, sorting prescriptions, telephoning patients back, reviewing results, fighting the crashing computer system, and dictating letters that I get to at 18h30 and still have a few phone calls still to make. Then I’m grateful for my manager and staff who have sorted out the printer, sent off our paper work and evidence to NHS England or the CCG and prepared the protocols for a CQC inspection. And I’m grateful to my husband who may have started the stir fry and is not too irritated that I’m late again or that I didn’t get home from my half day till 17h30 (pretty standard now).

I’m grateful that at least 50% of the time, we can get locums and I feel for the GPs I hear about who haven’t had any holiday for 10 months because they can’t get locums at all. It’s not easy that we got our practice into the red for about three years due to falling profits and we are still fighting our way back. We’d love to pay our staff a bit more as they work hard and are highly supportive and dedicated, but reducing core funds make it pretty impossible.

My father who is sleeping peacefully beside me has multiple and complex health needs. He has had extraordinary care over more than two decades. He’s received patient centred exemplary care and behind the scenes I know there will have been multiple conversations across specialities and between teams to ensure decisions that are complex result in thoughtful options in his best interest. I know this because I know what happens behind the scenes for my patients too…letters, discussions, reviewing the evidence and then trying to make good decisions with patients and their families.

So, I’m proud of the NHS and I love it, but it’s tough. We need to keep the doctors we’re training (and significant numbers are leaving) and fund it well enough to continue to work at this high standard. Of course it’s a 24/7 NHS … It just depends whether you believe all services should be provided all the time or whether you want good provision in a timely manner in an affordable way. I think the profession know what they believe is best for patients and staff, but we’re yet to get the government on board.

Ruth Bonnington is a GP working in a small practice in Gateshead. She works 3/4 of the time and does some out of hours work based in the local hospital for an out of hours cooperative.

Competing interests: None declared.