Full Disclosure with James O'Brien - and Doctor Rachel Clarke

28 January 2021, 14:43 | Updated: 28 January 2021, 14:55

Saskia Lumley

By Saskia Lumley

This week's episode of Full Disclosure sees James O'Brien joined by doctor and campaigner Rachel Clarke.

Palliative care doctor & campaigner Rachel Clarke, better known as @doctor_oxford on Twitter, is on this week's episode of Full Disclosure with James O'Brien.

In her most recent book, ‘Breathtaking: Inside the NHS in a time of Pandemic’, Dr Clarke writes what it was really like inside the NHS for patients, staff and families during the first wave of Covid-19.

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Dr Clarke, formerly a current affairs journalist, qualified as a doctor in 2009 from the University of Oxford. She rose to prominence as a campaigner when she spoke out against Jeremy Hunt in the junior doctors’ contract dispute in 2015.

In this episode, Dr Clarke speaks out on the hypocrisy of politicians using the ‘NHS heroes’ rhetoric for popularity:

“I just thought that rhetoric, coming from a government with a track record of strategically and deliberately underfunding the health service for 10 years, which, of course, meant we were in the worst possible situation to go into the pandemic in the first place: we were short of 100,000 staff and still are in the NHS.

I just thought it was reprehensible for those same individuals, sort of, improve their own popularity on the back of the heroes rhetoric.”

She tells James O’Brien that things in the NHS were different ten years ago, before “we as a country had voted in a government who was quite happy to, I would say, systematically degrade the NHS.”

“I can remember things being different then [in 2009]… I do not remember seeing ambulances sitting outside the hospital unable to discharge their patients because there wasn’t a single bed inside, and I didn’t see patients lined up in corridors.”

As the years went by, she tells James of how NHS resources were “eroded.”

“Prior to coronavirus… I was already anxious because my fears were: how bad is the winter crisis going to be this year?”

“We were used to just gritting our teeth and knowing that there weren’t enough of us, there weren’t enough beds, there wasn’t enough of anything.”

She explains how her latest book 'Breathtaking' started as an “outpouring of, sort of, therapeutic rambling” of what was going on at work. But then she realised she was “bearing witness to what was really happening inside the hospital and this testimony… was being denied or minimised.”

“It was real and I didn’t think people knew anything really about what it was like.”

NHS staff who died of Covid-19 “didn’t give their lives, their lives were taken away by inadequate PPE and a failure to lockdown.”

She talks about how the NHS staff she interviewed for her book would “weep” and say: “this is the first time I’ve ever spoken about this; this is the first time anyone has ever listened to it.”

Both James and Dr Clarke become emotional throughout the conversation. “The people you write about are seen through your book” James tells her.

Dr Clarke tears up over the “real hope” she has found in this pandemic “despite everything” “because you go into work and every single day you see people being so brave and so selfless and so generous.”

Dr Rachel has also written two other books: The Sunday Times number 3 bestseller Dear Life, based on her work in a hospice which explores love and loss, and Sunday Times bestselling Your Life in My Hands, which depicts life for a junior doctor on the NHS frontline.

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