When I was a House Officer and Senior House Officer in Oral Surgery from 1978 – 81, the name Russell Hopkins was mentioned with awe and some trepidation. He was Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery in Cardiff with something of the autonomy of consultants in the post Lancelot Spratt years (without the Roller), his domain was The University Hospital of Wales or “The Heath” as we Cardiffians called it.
Hopkins went into hospital management at the end of his clinical career and became General Manager of The Heath. My father was admitted there several times from 1992-95 with heart problems. His management went along the lines of: crisis, admitted, stabilised, sent back to GP care, this happened five or more times and it seemed that little was done to get his LVF properly sorted. It finally took my brother’s intervention to get an ex-colleague of his (who was thankfully a cardiologist) to go the ward, where our Dad was lying in a bed, and announce, “you are Jonathan Rees’s father and I am taking over your case”. The ward nurses tried to prevent his bed being moved as Dad was supposedly under the “care” of another consultant. I have no doubt that this change and the subsequent care significantly prolonged his life.
My father had developed pressure sores during one of his admissions, my mother, a retired nurse, who considered such a basic nursing failure to be a sacking offence, took to treating his sores and trying to ensure they didn’t recur.
Hopkins himself was at the wrong end of care at another local hospital, Llandough, after problems during a hip operation in 2013 he said then that the NHS was “a mess”. He had my sympathies, of course, but there was a thought of, “now you know what others went through.”
His view on the junior doctors strike was printed in a letter to the Telegraph:
SIR – In 1998 I was elected a Fellow of the British Medical Association (BMA) in recognition of outstanding service. I had served on the central and subcommittees of the BMA in London and the Welsh equivalents for several years.
In those days, the BMA represented medical practitioners as a trade union, but with an acceptance of the needs of patient care and ethical practice. I do not recognise this today. The BMA has morphed into a militant, Left-wing political body seemingly interested in attacking the Government, while pressing the financial needs of the profession, giving little thought to patient care, ethical practice or the need for out-of-hours care.
Reasons that have led to today’s strike include a lack of clinical training for undergraduates; the 48-hour week imposed by the European Working Time Directive, which reduces both clinical training and patient contact; the loss of clinical teams led by a named responsible consultant; the contract changes for GPs and consultants (introduced by Tony Blair); and a malevolent management unaware of ethical clinical practice, which has destroyed much of the goodwill that sealed many of the cracks.
The last few years of my life have been made difficult by the consequences of medical negligence. I despair at the prospect of the quality of care my children and grandchildren can look forward to as they age.
The public utterances of the present junior doctors’ leader and the chairman of the BMA Council convince me that this is not the same organisation which I was once proud to serve. Therefore I propose, with considerable regret, to return my certificate of Fellowship to the Wales office of the BMA.
I think that this reply (from his daughter) says much:
SIR – I read the letter from my father, Russell Hopkins, with some dismay. He has been out of clinical practice for so long that he is disconnected from the problems facing the profession today.
Junior doctors chose to strike in order to take a stand against the destruction of the medical profession by a Government insistent on imposing an unfair contract that is ultimately driven by the desire to reduce pay and a promise to deliver non-emergency care at all hours.
I, too, worry for the future of the NHS, but for very different reasons. We need to continue to attract the brightest young people into medicine in order to maintain a high quality of service. With the proposed contract changes, plummeting morale and poor working conditions will mean that we will struggle to recruit anyone at all; school-leavers will simply choose other careers and those in training will continue to flee overseas.
My father and his generation enjoyed a career where they had respect and autonomy, were lavished with hospitality by drug companies, and then retired on final-salary NHS pensions. They would not recognise the job today.
As a consultant surgeon, I – along with most of my colleagues – support the junior doctors in their decision to strike.
Such a shame, for them, for us, for the country.