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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 04:20 GMT 05:20 UK
Pressures of working in an NHS hospital
Dr Crowhurst gave up hospital medicine and now drives taxis
Dr Crowhurst gave up hospital medicine and now drives taxis
Virtually all NHS staff believe that the stress of working in the health service is increasing, according to a survey out on Thursday.

Eddie Crowhurst, a former hospital doctor, tells BBC News Online how the combination of a high-pressured job and little sleep led him to leave the profession he had aspired to from childhood.

He now works as a taxi driver in Northampton.

Dr Crowhurst had always wanted to be a doctor.

"I was fascinated by human biology, from a very early age, and that eventually coalesced, and I wanted to be a doctor by the time I left school," he said.

Dr Crowhurst, 32, trained in Oxford and went on to work in hospitals around East Anglia.

All was well until around five years into his career when he had what he describes as "a mild nervous breakdown".

Things came to a head while he was working as a surgical senior house officer at Leicester Royal Infirmary, though he stresses the problems could have occurred in any hospital in the NHS.

Dr Crowhurst said he is happier driving taxis
Dr Crowhurst said he is happier driving taxis
"The long hours, in particular the phenomenally long weekends - where you start early on Saturday morning and finish on Monday morning - were a real problem.

"My problem was that initially when I was a house officer, I was straight out of university and I could cope with the lack of sleep. But as I got older, I increasingly couldn't - and I was taking on more responsibility."

He said the worst times were when he was operating during a long weekend shift.

"I was conscious about making a mistake and my bleeper was going off, telling me there were more patients to see."

"I was getting stressed, I was getting very depressed.

"I even considered jumping off the hospital car park roof."

Health problems

His health deteriorated, and he began suffering coughs and colds more regularly, and even had to start using an asthma inhaler.

Things came to a head around Christmas 1997. Dr Crowhurst had been away, and was preparing to return to work for his first on-call shift.

As he was leaving, he was struck by a severe coughing fit. Deciding it would be impossible if he was affected in the same way while operating, he decided to call in sick.

But he says his bosses were "very unsympathetic".

Dr Crowhurst says he knows his anxiety and his sleep-deprivation probably affected his "bedside manner" and the way he dealt with patients.

His bosses suggested he see a psychiatrist - something Dr Crowhurst welcomed as a chance to sort his problems out.

But he says the aim of the consultation was simply to pass him as fit to begin going on call again.

He was coming towards the end of his six-month training stint at the hospital, and he says once that period had come to an end, he would have been another hospital's problem.

Dr Crowhurst took a medical research post, but when that finished in the summer of 2000, he found work as a taxi driver.

"I asked a friend who ran a cab service if I could drive for him.

"I enjoy being self-employed and being in control."

He said he still did some occupational health work, but did not envisage going back into hospital medicine.

And Dr Crowhurst said the only comments he tends to get from passengers is to ask him why he's wearing a bow tie.

Although he is happy in the choice he has made, Dr Crowhurst says having a service such as Neurolink could have helped.

"If there had been something like that around while I was practising, I might well have been able to manage things and stay in the job."

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See also:

13 Apr 00 | Health
Stress slows healing
02 Feb 01 | Asia-Pacific
Overworked doctors 'like drunks'
31 Jan 01 | Northern Ireland
Hospitals face working hours fines
02 Aug 99 | Health
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