Dr Phil Hammond, GP and broadcaster

Am I alone in thinking that the biggest crisis facing the NHS is not, as ïnewÍ Labour would have us believe, a lack of performance management (whatever that is), but the mental health of the workforce?

One of the advantages of being a media tart is that you get to talk to audiences of healthcare professionals all over the UK, and from where IÍm standing, you look increasingly shot to pieces.

Tony Blair reckons he can turn round the health service in time for the next election by forging ever onwards with the most radical reform programme ever, but I think heÍs away with the fairies. Never before in the history of the health service has so much been expected of so few in so little time. No wonder youÍre all so knackered.

IÍm currently resting from the day job to do a comedy tour, and although 23 dates in a month is hard work, I doubt itÍs as tough as working full time in the NHS. My father was a workaholic academic, brilliant at what he did but unable to switch off.

He took his life when I was seven, and the main reason I wonÍt work full time in the NHS is that I want to avoid the same fate. So far this year, IÍve read of four GPs committing suicide and in one practice I used to work in, two of the five partners have had time off in the past few years with depressive illness.

What amazes me is that so few doctors seem to go off sick. I guess many just develop their own coping mechanisms.

Ranting in private against the absurdities and iniquities of the NHS is an art form for many of us, but itÍs a brave doctor who goes public with his or her frustration – and clearly there are a lot of distressed doctors out there who need to let it out. Which is where this monthÍs plug comes in.

On 10 October, the DoctorsÍ Support Line was launched. Run by doctors for doctors, it offers independent, anonymous and confidential help. Neither party reveals their identity, so thereÍs no danger of details being passed on to the GMC or employer. No one is judging your fitness to practise.

Nor will you get any counselling. The service provides listening and peer support without advice. But because youÍre speaking to a doctor, youÍre far more likely to get someone who knows what youÍre going through and who may well have been there too.

In the first few weeks of operating, the support line has received a steady stream of calls and I hope it will secure the long term funding needed to become a permanent fixture.

In 1992, I stood for Parliament against the then Health Secretary William Waldegrave to promote the cause of junior doctors. My party, the Struck Off and Die Junior Doctors Alliance (or SODJDA) got lots of media attention but alas not many votes. However, when I was asked to give an election night speech, I said: ñIf you want a better health service, you have to look after the people working in it.î

A decade later, and the NHS staff is facing meltdown. But at least you can now talk in safety to someone who knows what youÍre going through – phone 0870 765 0001.

Dr Phil is on UK tour this Autumn with 89 minutes to save the NHS. Details at www.karushi.com

Guidelines in Practice, November 2002, Volume 5(11)
© 2002 MGP Ltd
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