I do not drink coffee, but that does not stop me ‘going for coffee’. On long ward rounds, when all hope of the end is lost and the list seems to go on forever, the only glimmer of hope in the darkness might be a brief moment in which the team goes for coffee. We, the doctors, the nurses, the healthcare assistants and pharmacists, are people. We both need and appreciate sustenance as much as the next person, and just like everyone else we work better when we have breaks. We are not robots, we are not mindless automatons, and we are certainly not slackers.
Enter Michelle Scowen, the ‘matron for clinical support and imaging’ in Leicester. An e-mail, sent out to all staff, has stated that “Members of the public are frustrated by long waiting times during clinics and for appointments and are inflamed by seeing members of staff enjoying hot and cold drinks at the reception desks.”. As such, staff have been banned from consuming hot drinks of any kind in public areas in three hospitals around Leicester. A rapid backtrack on a generalised ban on drinking okayed cold drinks because they are ‘for rehydration’ rather than ‘relaxing’. How very puritanical. I hope lunch isn’t too tasty, matron, because woe betide you enjoy your
work fuel food.
Some may argue that this ban is fine because the ban does not extend to private areas, where slacking staff can quaff hot beverages to their hearts content without pesky patients complaining that the staff aren’t working hard enough. This doesn’t work for three reasons – firstly, if you’re in a private area you’re going to be collared to complete various paperwork-based tasks, which means you haven’t actually had a break at all. Secondly, there often isn’t anything other than cheap tea/instant coffee available in ward kitchens. I am told that instant coffee is distinctly sub-par compared to ‘proper coffee’ from a Costa or somesuch. Thirdly and finally is the lack of ‘private’ places outside the toilets. I share an office with 22 other doctors and the office is (quite literally) a refurbished coat cupboard. It contains two chairs and barely fits all of our bags, let alone a medical team. Where, matron, are we to drink our illicit beverages?
I have said this once if I’ve said it a thousand times – we are people. We have good days and bad days, laugh, cry, and yes – we eat and drink for more than sustenance. The business of medicine is serious and we take it seriously. There are days we go without food or water (or coffee) for full 13 hour shifts because there isn’t time. We come in early, or go home late, unpaid and often. Other days, we are less busy and get a break. The person who is deadly serious about everything in their working life burns out – I’ve seen it happen before and I will see it happen again. People, medical or not, need that glimmer of hope on long and stressful days, and if coffee is that glimmer then coffee they should have. If you want functioning medical staff rather than broken shells you better get used to that concept, Matron.