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NHS diaries: ‘It’s the most stressful organisation I’ve worked in in my life’

by Caroline Townsend | Analysis

10 September 2019

26 comments 26 comments

NHS hospital bicycle

Diagnosing cancer at its earliest and most treatable stages is vital to help more people survive their cancer. But it requires the Government to ensure there are enough NHS staff in place.

Dawn Chaplin is a consultant radiographer.

Dawn Chaplin, a consultant radiographer, has seen her clinics get busier and busier over the years.

Dawn Chaplin, a consultant radiographer who diagnoses breast cancer, shares her experiences of working for a short-staffed and overstretched NHS.

“It’s very, very difficult – rewarding and unrewarding. I love my job and what I do, but the expectations are unrealistic,” she says.

Chaplin’s role involves taking breast scans and interpreting results, as well as taking biopsies of any lumps she sees. She worked full-time for the NHS for 10 years, before switching to work short-term contracts. She says the pressures have increased year on year.

“It’s completely changed over the last few years, the number of patients we’re expected to deal with has just increased beyond belief for the number of staff.”

Too many patients, not enough time

Chaplin typically runs two clinics a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

“My clinics are enormous now, I’m expected see around 22 patients in my clinic, whereas I would be seeing 12-14 before.”

Despite the increase in numbers, Chaplin says she’s expected to complete each clinic in the same amount of time. This often means one clinic runs into another.

“Last Thursday, the clinic that was due to finish at 12.30pm actually finished at 2pm. But my afternoon clinic was supposed to start at 1.30pm, so already there were patients waiting for the next clinic while you’re still doing the first.”

This isn’t unusual. It means Chaplin rarely has time for a break, leaving her feeling that she’s “on a hamster wheel all the time”. This means more evening and weekend work to catch up.

But it’s not just her wellbeing that’s being affected, she thinks it’s having a big impact on patients too.

“They don’t get as much time with us as they used to be able to get. You try to give the patient as much time as you can but you’re always aware that there are 10 patients waiting outside to come in as well.”

And for Chaplin, the potential consequences are huge.

“Ultimately, I’m worried that people are going to die, because there’s just not enough people to diagnose the cancers in a timely manner.”

Chaplin fears a delay in cancer diagnosis could mean cancers present when they’re bigger, more advanced and more difficult to treat. “I worry it may lead to people dying earlier than they should,” she adds.

‘It’s the same across the country’

This isn’t an isolated problem, says Chaplin, having worked in many hospitals across the country and had the same conversations with colleagues. And it’s having a big impact on staff.

“People with fantastic skills, lovely, hardworking and dedicated people, are leaving to go and work elsewhere – outside the NHS and overseas – for more money and half the amount of stress,” she says.

According to analysis done on NHS staff survey results from 2018, almost 1 in 5 (18%) people are considering leaving the NHS to:

  • take up a position in healthcare outside the NHS;
  • retire or take an extended break; or
  • take up a role outside of healthcare.

That’s on top of the 1 in 10 NHS diagnostic staff jobs that are already unfilled in England. “It’s the most stressful organisation I’ve worked in in my life,” says Chaplin. And this includes time in the RAF.

Time to act

It’s in the hands of the Government to make sure there are enough staff to diagnose and treat cancer early. And with cancer rates increasing and the government target to diagnose 3 in 4 cancers early by 2028, the pressure faced by NHS staff is only going to grow.

“I think the NHS is definitely in crisis, despite what the Government is saying. We need more staff.”

>> Join us in telling the Government you want thousands more lives to be saved by diagnosing cancer early

Caroline Townsend is an ambassador and campaigns officer at Cancer Research UK


    Comments

  • Sue Kinloch
    15 October 2019

    For some time now I have wondered if there has been a hidden drive to run the NHS down in favour of privatisation. This chimes with the American Health Care arrangements . This would suit some Companies very much.

  • E ALLSOPP
    15 October 2019

    I totally agree, all areas of the NHS are desperately short of staff which effects patient and and staff with too much pressure. This helps no one causes mental and physical problems for every one. Just a thought but calling Dawn by her last name de personalises her

  • Chris Stanford
    13 October 2019

    I certainly sympathise with the view expressed here. However the NHS cannot keep receiving more and more of the national income without reorganisation and transparency so that inefficiencies in some areas are exposed and dealt with. That way we can create more funding for obvious priorities such as the one described here by Dawn Chaplin

  • Carol
    13 October 2019

    I totally agree worked as a nurse for 40 years now retired at one time used to have more time to talk to patients and explain which is quality time and beneficial in the long run agree staff not getting lunch breaks too many targets still do great work

  • Sally
    13 October 2019

    There are more people coming into the country daily and having access to NHS.
    Why is it always blamed on an ageing population that use up resources.
    We cannot treat the whole world for free.even if we would love to.
    My best friend has terminal cancer and her oncologist once said to HER I’m so stressed.God help her and my dear friend..

  • Hayley
    12 October 2019

    Prime example of nhs failings, overworked and inadequately trained staff.
    My dad sadly passed away 4 weeks ago from lung cancer.
    Firstly it took a year of repeated visits to his GP to finally be diagnosed with lung cancer, even though he had every possible symptom – even coughing up large amount of blood was put down to a burst capillary !!
    Thereafter it took three months for any treatment to start. He then went on to have chemo and radio, he got through it all and started to get back on track and had his final consultation with his oncologist.
    Tumour had shrunk! And he had a final scan done. Great news his prognosis (yes I know it is only statistical ) 2-5 years.
    He was dead within 5 weeks….why?
    He became poorly, we took him to A&E twice , both times sent home with antibiotics, we saw Gp countless times , to be told he’s ok just the affects of radio.
    Then he got worse and ended up in A&E again at 2am of a morning, we had to take him ourself as 3 hour wait for ambulance! finally given a bed at 10pm the same day.
    We were told he was not a priority/emergency case!
    5 day later my dad died in hospital…why?
    The scan that was taken at his last appointment 5 weeks prior , didn’t turn up/got lost/wasn’t looked at ,we heard various excuses was found 1 day before he died, showing infections in his lungs that could have been treated if a doctor /consultant/oncologist.. whoever should have been doing their job and following proper guidelines had noticed , my dad would be here now .
    The NHS has done our family a huge injustice!

  • Beverly Hunter
    12 October 2019

    Feel so sorry for the NHS staff, it must be very sad to know that there is not enough being done for patients with cancer and the fact that they have so much work to do and not enough time to carry it out with the shortages of staff. This is a very serious problem which needs to be sorted out as soon as possible for the Government.

  • L Gamble
    12 October 2019

    I have had fabulous treatment at the Portsmouth QA for the removal of a bowel cancer and follow-up scans.

  • Dimer Caprol
    12 October 2019

    I have been engaging in a polite online debate with an American friend who firmly believes that everyone should pay for their own healthcare themselves unless they have a disability. Our government seems to want to buy into that philosophy – which will become a reality when we are more closely tied to the US. I think a tax funded NHS will fall low on the priority list and therefore the talented workers will end up in privatised healthcare systems. I don’t think the Government is actively trying to end the NHS, but that is the likely outcome.

  • Carol
    12 October 2019

    It’s a situation that’s happening right across the NHS and the government have got to wake up to the problem it needs more funding and I believe they need to be more creative in the way they recruit and train staff

  • Marie Edwards
    12 October 2019

    I am a nurse who has worked in the nhs for 11 years in chemotherapy units. The diary’s are full to bursting point. New patients coming through every day with no room and no staff to treat them. Staff are worn out and moral is low. I fear what will happen to the nhs.

  • Faye Eley
    12 October 2019

    This is a very moving story, thank you Dawn.
    I would like to volunteer my services where ever it could be needed, having just had cancer, and being with wonderful Royal Marsden. I am normally a live in carer and work people who have dementia….

  • Sue
    12 October 2019

    I have recently had a biopsy – and told it could take at least 6 weeks to get the results. Investigative procedures started 5 months ago. Hope it is nothing serious

  • Emma Giles
    11 October 2019

    My dad was diagnosed with Bile Duct Cancer 4 weeks ago, and still hasn’t even sat in front of an oncologist. He’s been told his referral is with Guy’s hospital, yet still has no idea when he’ll be seen. He should’ve been seen and started treatment by now. The waiting times are shocking!

  • Sam
    11 October 2019

    Consultant Radiographers have the relevant training in breast diagnosis (and extra training to actually perform some aspects of the breast imaging) that Radiologists have including film reporting, Ultrasound and biopsy training. They play a vital role in breast imaging departments and train for years to gain the relevant qualifications and experience to run their own clinics. Their work is audited in the same way as Radiologists and the system would be near crisis if we didn’t have consultant Radiographers and Advanced practitioner radiographers performing things previously done by breast Radiologists which we don’t have enough of to deal with current demand.

  • Derek Eade
    11 October 2019

    This, and every government I have known, seem totally inept in backing the NHS which always used to lead the way and many countries envious of it’s work. It has now become a whipping post with only criticism unjustifiably aimed due to a massive underfunding in the “shop floor” areas – instead there are too many managers trying to justify their existence and exorbitant salaries. The cash from these incorrectly positioned salaries should be directed towards the staff on the front line together with additional funding to allow further recruitment at this level. Unfortunately the government does not have the intelligence to settle Brexit let alone stand back and see how this country is severely hampered by their ineptitude.

  • Elizabeth Bell
    11 October 2019

    I think that the government should give a great deal more money to the NHS, a wonderful institution which has provided great care to the people over the years. However the staff shortages are extremely worrying and in this case, particularly with cancer, where more and more people are in need. I believe the government must fund this to ensure that there are enough staff to diagnose and treat cancer early. With cancer rates increasing the pressure faced by the NHS staff is only going to grow. The NHS requires more staff and the government must fund this.

  • Den gat
    10 October 2019

    All true

  • Carol
    10 October 2019

    I must admit I was just as surprised as C A Hogg that a Radiographer as opposed to a Radiologist was diagnosing breast cancer and performing biopsies. It would be interesting to know what qualifications and training she’s had to allow her to do this.

  • Shelley
    10 October 2019

    I just signed the petition then had a reply to say it was for England only?? Why is this when the problem is everywhere?? as stated in above article.

  • Shelley
    10 October 2019

    I just signed the petition then had a reply to say it was for England only?? Why is this for England only when the problem is everywhere?? as stated in above article.

  • Len Oliver
    10 October 2019

    I agree with the previous comments regarding expertise, also we have to consider the increasing age of the population, it is easy to blame the government of whatever persuasion. Maybe we should be more particular who we treat and charge accordingly.

  • C. A. Hogg.
    10 October 2019

    I find it somewhat concerning that radiographers rather than radiologists are making these diagnoses & also doing biopsies. I wouldn’t have thought that their training would have given them expertise in these fields & find that information rather worrying.

  • JOHN USHER
    10 October 2019

    Change the goverment,Tories cut taxes for top 1%.

  • Karen
    15 September 2019

    Absolutely agree. I’ve worked as a cancer nurse in the NHS Cancer for nearly 30 years. Particularly in the last 10 years it has got busier, more demanding and a lot more is expected by both patients & managers. We rarely stop for breaks, often stay late to catch up on essential work and continuely extend/expand our role to do things traditionally done by doctors. No wonder so many colleagues have retired at 55 and come back part-time, it’s often the only way to get work-life balance. It’s hard to give your best when you’re unable to look after yourself.
    Yes we work hard, do the best we can in the circumstances, we’re measuring patient outcomes etc but we can not make much difference to survival. Patients generally in the UK present later with more advanced disease. We need better access to diagnostics at the beginning, more prevention and reduction of risks, as a country are we taking the obesity epidemic seriously?

  • Sarah Rowe
    10 September 2019

    I completely agree and feel for this overworked professional caring woman and all the rest of us under this massive pressure

    Comments

  • Sue Kinloch
    15 October 2019

    For some time now I have wondered if there has been a hidden drive to run the NHS down in favour of privatisation. This chimes with the American Health Care arrangements . This would suit some Companies very much.

  • E ALLSOPP
    15 October 2019

    I totally agree, all areas of the NHS are desperately short of staff which effects patient and and staff with too much pressure. This helps no one causes mental and physical problems for every one. Just a thought but calling Dawn by her last name de personalises her

  • Chris Stanford
    13 October 2019

    I certainly sympathise with the view expressed here. However the NHS cannot keep receiving more and more of the national income without reorganisation and transparency so that inefficiencies in some areas are exposed and dealt with. That way we can create more funding for obvious priorities such as the one described here by Dawn Chaplin

  • Carol
    13 October 2019

    I totally agree worked as a nurse for 40 years now retired at one time used to have more time to talk to patients and explain which is quality time and beneficial in the long run agree staff not getting lunch breaks too many targets still do great work

  • Sally
    13 October 2019

    There are more people coming into the country daily and having access to NHS.
    Why is it always blamed on an ageing population that use up resources.
    We cannot treat the whole world for free.even if we would love to.
    My best friend has terminal cancer and her oncologist once said to HER I’m so stressed.God help her and my dear friend..

  • Hayley
    12 October 2019

    Prime example of nhs failings, overworked and inadequately trained staff.
    My dad sadly passed away 4 weeks ago from lung cancer.
    Firstly it took a year of repeated visits to his GP to finally be diagnosed with lung cancer, even though he had every possible symptom – even coughing up large amount of blood was put down to a burst capillary !!
    Thereafter it took three months for any treatment to start. He then went on to have chemo and radio, he got through it all and started to get back on track and had his final consultation with his oncologist.
    Tumour had shrunk! And he had a final scan done. Great news his prognosis (yes I know it is only statistical ) 2-5 years.
    He was dead within 5 weeks….why?
    He became poorly, we took him to A&E twice , both times sent home with antibiotics, we saw Gp countless times , to be told he’s ok just the affects of radio.
    Then he got worse and ended up in A&E again at 2am of a morning, we had to take him ourself as 3 hour wait for ambulance! finally given a bed at 10pm the same day.
    We were told he was not a priority/emergency case!
    5 day later my dad died in hospital…why?
    The scan that was taken at his last appointment 5 weeks prior , didn’t turn up/got lost/wasn’t looked at ,we heard various excuses was found 1 day before he died, showing infections in his lungs that could have been treated if a doctor /consultant/oncologist.. whoever should have been doing their job and following proper guidelines had noticed , my dad would be here now .
    The NHS has done our family a huge injustice!

  • Beverly Hunter
    12 October 2019

    Feel so sorry for the NHS staff, it must be very sad to know that there is not enough being done for patients with cancer and the fact that they have so much work to do and not enough time to carry it out with the shortages of staff. This is a very serious problem which needs to be sorted out as soon as possible for the Government.

  • L Gamble
    12 October 2019

    I have had fabulous treatment at the Portsmouth QA for the removal of a bowel cancer and follow-up scans.

  • Dimer Caprol
    12 October 2019

    I have been engaging in a polite online debate with an American friend who firmly believes that everyone should pay for their own healthcare themselves unless they have a disability. Our government seems to want to buy into that philosophy – which will become a reality when we are more closely tied to the US. I think a tax funded NHS will fall low on the priority list and therefore the talented workers will end up in privatised healthcare systems. I don’t think the Government is actively trying to end the NHS, but that is the likely outcome.

  • Carol
    12 October 2019

    It’s a situation that’s happening right across the NHS and the government have got to wake up to the problem it needs more funding and I believe they need to be more creative in the way they recruit and train staff

  • Marie Edwards
    12 October 2019

    I am a nurse who has worked in the nhs for 11 years in chemotherapy units. The diary’s are full to bursting point. New patients coming through every day with no room and no staff to treat them. Staff are worn out and moral is low. I fear what will happen to the nhs.

  • Faye Eley
    12 October 2019

    This is a very moving story, thank you Dawn.
    I would like to volunteer my services where ever it could be needed, having just had cancer, and being with wonderful Royal Marsden. I am normally a live in carer and work people who have dementia….

  • Sue
    12 October 2019

    I have recently had a biopsy – and told it could take at least 6 weeks to get the results. Investigative procedures started 5 months ago. Hope it is nothing serious

  • Emma Giles
    11 October 2019

    My dad was diagnosed with Bile Duct Cancer 4 weeks ago, and still hasn’t even sat in front of an oncologist. He’s been told his referral is with Guy’s hospital, yet still has no idea when he’ll be seen. He should’ve been seen and started treatment by now. The waiting times are shocking!

  • Sam
    11 October 2019

    Consultant Radiographers have the relevant training in breast diagnosis (and extra training to actually perform some aspects of the breast imaging) that Radiologists have including film reporting, Ultrasound and biopsy training. They play a vital role in breast imaging departments and train for years to gain the relevant qualifications and experience to run their own clinics. Their work is audited in the same way as Radiologists and the system would be near crisis if we didn’t have consultant Radiographers and Advanced practitioner radiographers performing things previously done by breast Radiologists which we don’t have enough of to deal with current demand.

  • Derek Eade
    11 October 2019

    This, and every government I have known, seem totally inept in backing the NHS which always used to lead the way and many countries envious of it’s work. It has now become a whipping post with only criticism unjustifiably aimed due to a massive underfunding in the “shop floor” areas – instead there are too many managers trying to justify their existence and exorbitant salaries. The cash from these incorrectly positioned salaries should be directed towards the staff on the front line together with additional funding to allow further recruitment at this level. Unfortunately the government does not have the intelligence to settle Brexit let alone stand back and see how this country is severely hampered by their ineptitude.

  • Elizabeth Bell
    11 October 2019

    I think that the government should give a great deal more money to the NHS, a wonderful institution which has provided great care to the people over the years. However the staff shortages are extremely worrying and in this case, particularly with cancer, where more and more people are in need. I believe the government must fund this to ensure that there are enough staff to diagnose and treat cancer early. With cancer rates increasing the pressure faced by the NHS staff is only going to grow. The NHS requires more staff and the government must fund this.

  • Den gat
    10 October 2019

    All true

  • Carol
    10 October 2019

    I must admit I was just as surprised as C A Hogg that a Radiographer as opposed to a Radiologist was diagnosing breast cancer and performing biopsies. It would be interesting to know what qualifications and training she’s had to allow her to do this.

  • Shelley
    10 October 2019

    I just signed the petition then had a reply to say it was for England only?? Why is this when the problem is everywhere?? as stated in above article.

  • Shelley
    10 October 2019

    I just signed the petition then had a reply to say it was for England only?? Why is this for England only when the problem is everywhere?? as stated in above article.

  • Len Oliver
    10 October 2019

    I agree with the previous comments regarding expertise, also we have to consider the increasing age of the population, it is easy to blame the government of whatever persuasion. Maybe we should be more particular who we treat and charge accordingly.

  • C. A. Hogg.
    10 October 2019

    I find it somewhat concerning that radiographers rather than radiologists are making these diagnoses & also doing biopsies. I wouldn’t have thought that their training would have given them expertise in these fields & find that information rather worrying.

  • JOHN USHER
    10 October 2019

    Change the goverment,Tories cut taxes for top 1%.

  • Karen
    15 September 2019

    Absolutely agree. I’ve worked as a cancer nurse in the NHS Cancer for nearly 30 years. Particularly in the last 10 years it has got busier, more demanding and a lot more is expected by both patients & managers. We rarely stop for breaks, often stay late to catch up on essential work and continuely extend/expand our role to do things traditionally done by doctors. No wonder so many colleagues have retired at 55 and come back part-time, it’s often the only way to get work-life balance. It’s hard to give your best when you’re unable to look after yourself.
    Yes we work hard, do the best we can in the circumstances, we’re measuring patient outcomes etc but we can not make much difference to survival. Patients generally in the UK present later with more advanced disease. We need better access to diagnostics at the beginning, more prevention and reduction of risks, as a country are we taking the obesity epidemic seriously?

  • Sarah Rowe
    10 September 2019

    I completely agree and feel for this overworked professional caring woman and all the rest of us under this massive pressure