Grant Woodward: This push for a seven-day NHS could be the death of us

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I’VE changed my mind about our young doctors.

I used to think they were out of order for moaning about the shift to a truly 24-hour, seven-day-a-week NHS.

After all, as patients we don’t fall ill or hurt ourselves to order.

Why should we have to worry that we’ll get a lesser standard of care on a Sunday night than we would on a Monday morning?

The nature of the job means doctors should expect to work anti-social hours and weekends as a matter of course.

And anyway, aren’t they already on whopping great salaries?

How dare they hold us to ransom just because they want to line their pockets with even more taxpayers’ cash?

But last night in Leeds, scores of junior doctors took to the streets to protest about the new contracts they’re being asked to sign.

And I don’t believe they had money on their minds.

Having children can change your perception about things.

Taking our two to children’s A and E more times than I care to remember for everything from a nasty fall to a very peculiar rash means I’ve had plenty of opportunities to see first-hand the pressures doctors are under.

One young doctor was there late one evening when we had to take my daughter in.

Eventually we were allowed to go home, but were told to return with her early the next morning.

“Who should we see?” I asked the doctor.

“Oh, I’ll still be here,” she smiled, explaining that she was clocking off around midnight and then back on shift again before most of us crawled out of bed.

And there has never been any doubt that the medics we’ve seen care deeply about what they’re doing.

As for the pay, it’s not nearly as extravagant as I thought. A newly-qualified doctor starts on £24,000.

For someone who has been through six years of training and is expected to save people’s lives, that’s not exactly a king’s ransom.

At the moment, medics who work at weekends are paid extra by way of compensation.

They say that the new contracts, which make no distinction between weekends and weekdays, will lose them up to 30 per cent of their take home pay.

Now, you could argue that, as I said, the nature of their work means they should suck it up.

But there’s a bigger question at stake here.

If you take away the carrot for working the days few people want to, will anyone put their hand up to do it?

One soon-to-be doctor at last night’s protest, Tom Bamford, said he hoped to specialise in obstetrics, which deals with pregnancy and childbirth.

But if the changes go ahead, he admitted he could change his mind.

“Obstetrics involves a lot of out of hours work,” he said, “so if I could choose a different speciality where I’m working more nine to five hours and get paid relatively similar, then why would I choose something where I’m going to be working all the hours God sends?”

And at a time when we’re desperate for new doctors, are these reforms really going to persuade the next generation to go into medicine?

We’re already having to beg, steal and borrow doctors from overseas to plug the gaps and this could make it worse.

Hapless Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt denies it’s about saving money, but that’s exactly what it looks like.

And far from making the NHS safer for patients, it could end up having the opposite effect.

Those long hours worked by the doctor who tended to my daughter could become the rule rather than the exception as there will no cap on the length of junior doctors’ shifts.

Not sure I fancy being treated by someone who’s half asleep, do you?

Still, at least it means the standard of care we get will be the same on a Sunday night as on a Monday morning – the only trouble is it’ll be awful bordering on lethal.

Prove you’re a true gent

RIGHT then men, it’s time to find out if you can call yourself a “modern gentleman”.

Country Life magazine (I know, I thought it was just a butter too) has come up with 39 steps you need to pass before you can lay claim to the status.

So I thought I’d have a crack at a few and see how I get on. Ok, here goes...

Negotiates airports with ease – Er, I have four-year-old twins so I can’t afford to be in an airport, but when I am it takes years off my life.

Can undo a bra with one hand – Of course. That’s how I ended up with the four-year-old twins.

Is unafraid to speak the truth – Always. Except in front of my wife when she’s got that look on her face. You know the one I mean.

Can train a dog and a rose – Sort of, I once taught my dog to suck Extra Strong Mints until the vet told me not to. I promptly switched him to Polos.

Is aware that facial hair is temporary, but a tattoo is permanent – I’m incapable of growing facial hair and my mum still says I can’t have a tattoo.

Avoids lilac socks and polishes his shoes – Surely only Prince wears lilac socks. I also polish my children’s shoes and their mother’s, so extra points there.

Has two tricks to entertain children – Knowing how to access the CBeebies channel from both normal telly and iPlayer definitely counts, right?

Knows when not to say anything – ...

I do believe I’ve passed with flying colours.

University Challenged

TALKING of tests, the BBC have brought out a new University Challenge Quiz Book.

It’s full of questions like: The death of which emperor in AD 68 provoked, according to Suetonius, ‘such great public joy that the common people ran through the city dressed in liberty caps’?

Crumbs. In fact, the only difference to the real thing is that you don’t have Jeremy Paxman sneering at you after every wrong answer.

There’s nothing quite like University Challenge for making me feel completely and utterly stupid.

In our house it’s the cue for wild celebrations when one of us gets a question right. We average about one every two series.

Still, it’s not the most difficult quiz on television.

As one wag online pointed out, surely the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions are harder.

After all, no one on there can answer a single question.