Coping with illness

Important things to remember

  • You will get sick. That is life. You’re surrounded by germ-exuding things (otherwise known as your patients and colleagues), and may well be in a new place, and so exposed to new germs.
  • If you are sick, you should not be at work. Period. If you make a mistake because your brain is fugged with snot or uncontrolled anxiety, the fact that you were sick will not be a defence. Seek appropriate help, early, please.
  • Diarrhoea and/or vomiting are an automatic 48 hours off after symptoms cease. No one wants to catch your viral stomach bug, trust me.
  • Feeling guilty about calling in sick is totally normal, but should not stop you doing so. Things will not stop because you are not there. The department will function. If someone is giving you grief about being off, report them. You can’t help being sick or injured.
  • Hand hygiene is very boring but is key.
  • Please take care of yourself. Eat actual food. Consider multivitamins. Sleep. Take your leave. Go outside. Develop a work/life balance. Keep in touch with people you care about. Don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk. Talk to your colleagues. You are a valuable asset. We like you. We’d like to keep you.
  • There is a real drive to throw yourself through the training rat race, to be a consultant/GP as early as possible, but there is so much more to life.
  • Lots of people have to repeat some of the Foundation Scheme due to sickness absence, and that does not make them bad doctors and is not going to impact their future career. If anything, it is going to make them better doctors, colleagues, and more understanding seniors.
  • Please read “Leave” for more information on how to take sick leave. 

Occupational health

They can seem to be the party poopers on occasion, but they can be very useful. Most departments offer phone consultations with the nurses, where you can get lots of advice: I’ve broken my leg – can I come back to work with my walking POP, for example, or can I book in to see one of the doctors?
If you have a chronic illness or disability, then Occupational Health should already have been in touch about potential adjustments.

You can self-certify for 7 days. After that, you need a Sick/Fit Note. Your GP, or the department in charge of your care (if this involves hospitals) can sort that out.

Each trust has its own sickness policy, but the general rules are to call as early as you know that you will not be at work and to keep them updated as much as possible.

During your first year of NHS service, you are entitled to 1 month of full pay, and 2 months of half pay, before you revert to Statutory Sick Pay (otherwise known as peanuts).

When you come back to work, you will likely have a review meeting. This will involve people from your department and can include HR, Occupational Health and Foundation School leads. These can appear very daunting, but are just a legal process, and can be dead useful if you need to raise concerns (did you go off sick because you are being bullied, for example), they need to raise concerns (you are doing too many locums, for example) or need to discuss special arrangements.

If you have many short episodes off, you’ll trigger what they’ll call the Bradford Factor, so you’re more likely to end up with a meeting with the world and his mother, but, still, it is the process, and should be nothing to worry about. Having you at work is in their interests, so they should all be there to help you.

Good luck! It’s worth it, really.

Further reading

By Jen Taylor (ST5 Anaesthetics)

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