Last night I watched ‘Living’, the recently released film, written and directed by the Booker Prize winning author of ‘The Remains of the Day’, Kasuo Ishiguro. Starring Bill Nighy and Aimee Lou Wood it is set in 1953 and charts the final few months in the life of Mr Williams, a senior bureaucrat in the London City Council.
In one particular poignant scene, Mr Williams, wonderfully portrayed by Nighy, considers how fitting it is that children who have been happily playing outdoors try to ignore their mothers when they are told by them that it’s finally time to come inside for tea. He contrasts their appropriate reluctance to accept that their fun is over with those other youngsters who, not a part of the games that are being played, watch sadly on and are therefore all too happy when at last the afternoon draws to a close.
In the film, Mr Williams’ reflections, all the more pertinent given the fact that he has recently received a terminal diagnosis, have an impact on how he approaches what little time he has left. As I watched, I couldn’t help thinking that, with just three years to go before I reach the average age at which a GP retires, I too have only a little time left. And as one who has long hoped that when my time came to retire, I would be sad to go, I was left pondering what needs to change if I, like those sidelined children, am not to spend the rest of my working life simply longing for it to come to an end.
Such considerations are not mine alone. This week, eager to stem the flow of senior doctors that are currently leaving the profession, the chancellor announced changes to the pension system so as to make it more financially worthwhile for them to stay in gainful employment. But what he and his colleagues in government seem to fail to understand is that, whilst perhaps not unwelcome, a few extra quid will not be enough to retain those who no longer derive the pleasure they once did from their work. This is, of course, a state of affairs which, far from being unique to those working in medicine, is replicated in other areas of the public sector. As such, those in power need to recognise that it is working conditions that are going to have to improve if large swaths of the workforce are to be retained.
There will of course be those who, considering it our duty to do so, say that those in positions such as mine should simply stop their moaning and get on with the task in hand. But before we bow our heads apologetically and nod along to their demands for greater altruism, perhaps those who insist that it is simply a matter of everyone working longer and harder should consider this: that the pleasure one gains from one’s work comes in large measure from being able to do that work well, a state of affairs that requires the necessary resources, both material and human, to be in place.
If then we are to accept a dispirited workforce who, dissatisfied by their achievements, are dutifully and joylessly going through the motions, we must accept too the poorer outcomes that will also be the effect of our acquiescence. Not only that, but we will have to continue to tolerate the inevitable continued exodus of those who, recognising how impossible their work has become, chose instead to look elsewhere to do what good they can.
When he retired in 2001, Tony Benn said that he was leaving parliament to spend more time in politics. What a tragedy it would be if, like him, those leaving medicine and other public services did so to spend the time they had left doing what they had found they could no longer do in their place of work.
Much, then, needs to change – and fast. Because it’s not just for me that time is running out.
‘Living’ is available now to rent or buy on Amazon Prime.
To read ‘Wither tomorrow?’, click here
To read ‘The NHS Emporium’, click here
To read ‘On Approaching One’s Sell By Date’, click here
To read ‘General Practice – is time running out?’, click here
To read ‘Friday, Bloody Friday’, click here
To read ‘On being overwhelmed’, click here
To read ‘On Not Remotely Caring’, click here
To read ‘Contactless’, click here
To read ‘An Audience for Grief’, click here
To read ‘Vaccinating to remain susceptible’, click here
To read ‘Eleanor Rigby is not at all fine’, click here
To read ‘The Abolition of General Practice’, click here
To read ‘General Practice – still a sweet sorrow’, click here
To read ‘The Life I Lead’, click here
To read ‘When “Good enough” isn’t good enough’ click here
To read ‘Something to reflect on – are we too narcissistic?’, click here
To read ‘Too busy to be happy?’, click here
To read ‘The NHS – the ‘S’ is for service, not slave’, click here
To read ‘On keeping what we dare not lose’, click here
To read ‘Bagpuss and the NHS’, click here
To read ‘Health – it’ll be the death of us. Is there institutional arrogance in the NHS?’, click here
To read ‘On being crazy busy – a ticklish problem’, click here
To read ‘From A Distance’, click here
To read ‘I’ll miss this when we’re gone’, click here
To read ‘Don’t forget to be ordinary, if you want to be happy’, click here
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