Book Summary: Your Life in my Hands by Rachel Clarke

I have spent most of the summer revising for my UKCAT and enjoying reading lots of books on holiday.

This book is focussed around current issues in the NHS from the perspective of a Junior Doctor, including negative feelings leading to striking beginning on 12th January 2016. It was written very recently so gives an up-to-date record of how our doctors feel about political decisions that are being made surrounding the NHS.

Your Life in My Hands continuously praises the work of the doctors and healthcare teams in England, and shows the dedication and compassion needed by the teams to continue to come to work and save lives, even when they feel that the government is working against them. I learned that doctors must be good at fast decision making and assertive in order to deliver news to patients and their families, as well as patient.

It is made clear that Clarke believes the government used the press to blame doctors’ lack of care and commitment to their patients as the reason they did not turn up to work in 2016. The real reason is the opposite in that they care so much about the patients and are being stopped by NHS guidelines and financial budget set out by politicians, preventing them from helping those in need, as well as already working weekends and wanting to be paid for these extra hours, and staff shortages. The hospital environment is now unsafe and Clarke states that every trust is suffering as much as the time of ‘scandal’ at Mid Staffordshire NHS Trust in 2013. The government using the press to blame Junior Doctors for the NHS’ issues has negative effects on the relationship and trust between doctors and their patients.

I found it very interesting reading that Jeremy Hunt breached patient confidentiality when responding to the social media spread of the hash tag #ImInWorkJeremy. This is shocking as he should be setting the example to all staff at the NHS to respect patients and their confidentiality, in order to maintain a strong patient-doctor relationship.

Some medical knowledge I learned by reading this book is the ‘ABC’ method of immediate assessment of A&E patients. A is for airway, B for breathing and C for circulation. It is important to check peoples’ voice, chest, hands and pulse for any abnormalities.

I love Clarke’s description of medicine as ‘reading a human body like a book and applying hard science to fixing its frailties’ because it captures both the need for strong academics as well as care needed to be a doctor.  I also liked how Clarke talked about being a doctor as an ‘honour’, ‘privilege’ and ‘calling’. I am extremely keen to be a doctor and would be honoured to follow my passion at university.

Clarke talks about the sadness of medical professionals after preventable deaths and how the government’s NHS policies are currently stopping the staff from doing their best, and may lead to many avoidable failures of the system.

The book touches on mental health of junior doctors, including high suicide rates and depression. It was sad to hear about a new doctor crying in the doctors’ mess saying that the work they are expected to is ‘unsafe, unfair and inhumane’. It is therefore important to look up to people more experienced than yourself in the medical profession and work as a team, in order to learn from their knowledge and experience. However, everyone is of equal value so should all take responsibility for simple tasks such as answering the phone.

The NHS has got to a point where it is so severely understaffed that it no longer follows what it was originally set out to be by Sir Robert Francis who wanted safe staffing as a priority, particularly encouraging NICE to be used to develop evidence-based guidelines.

Your Life in My Hands is focussed on the less glamorous parts of NHS medicine, including the long working hours, hospital overflows (eg. Worcester Royal Hospital was forced to put patients in decontamination rooms as there were not sufficient beds in January 2017), and less pay compared to other countries’ medical professionals. It is the dedication and commitment that medical professionals show to the NHS’ key values that inspires me to work hard for my application to medical school. Clarke’s finishing statement of ‘his life is in the hands not of one doctor but of the nation’ is extremely powerful as it shows the reliance on each of us to pay taxes in order for the government to fund the NHS to save our lives when needed, as well as reminding the reader that the NHS is an institution that we should be extremely proud to have in our country as we all help each other out when funding this institution that offers healthcare free at the point of use for all residents, whatever a person’s background is.


Emily Buchanan


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