Tom Goodfellow

Beware of the old man in a hurry

The day finally arrived! On May 10th I officially became a SENIOR CITIZEN (or aged parent as the kids call me). We celebrated with a very nice family dinner which I somehow ended up paying for. Plus ça change! However the State pension has started arriving in my bank account so in a strange sort of way I feel richer despite having to pay 40% tax on it.

My birthday fell on a day when I was not at work so I was spared the indignity of balloons festooned over my office door, a Zimmer frame bedecked with tinsel and a bag of Werthers Originals on the desk. Mind you I do not qualify as a genuine Original having no grandchildren with whom to share my sticky toffees.

So there it is – the trust has already received my official resignation letter and on November 30th I sail off into the sunset to get a life for the rest of my life. And none of this zero hours contract nonsense so that I can come back and do “sessions”, i.e. rescue them out of the chasm left by my departure. Over forty year in the NHS is enough for anyone, and in any case I cannot be bothered with this revalidation nonsense.

So six months to go, feet up, gradual wind down as I hand over all my responsibilities while it slowly dawns on them who/what they are losing!

Er…not quite! By some dark twist of fate I suddenly find that all has changed. I am no longer simply the funny old geezer in the departure lounge waiting to check out but in fact I am, once again, in charge! For perfectly legitimate reasons our radiology clinical director had to stand down with zero notice, and I was not exactly run over by my colleagues vying with each other to take his place.

How did they get you to agree to do it you might ask? Well they took me into a basement room, strapped me to a chair and dripped ice cold water onto my bald patch. They then slowly recited the latest Planning Board minutes while waving a copy of Standing Financial Instructions in front of me. I pleaded with them to stop, but it was when they produced a proctoscope and a large syringe that I finally cracked. “I surrender” I screamed, “I will do it”! (Perhaps I have exaggerated a few details but old men are allowed to tell tall tales).

Now my once quiet agenda is becoming steadily filled. Far from dreaming of leisurely cruises and sun-drenched beaches in far flung places I have to attend meetings to discuss important things. I have to think strategy and policy, plans and procedures. When the on call rota has been cocked up I have to sort it and persuade reluctant colleagues to cover the gaps. I have to explain to them up there why the radiology department is failing to keep up with the ever rising demand on our services with no increase in resources. I have to compose conciliatory responses to angry litigious relatives as to why an early lung cancer in a 78 year old life-long smoker was missed on the initial chest x-ray. And much much more!

But there are advantages to this. Firstly I have nothing to lose – a very strong position to be in. I am also very interim while I wait for my colleagues to get their act together and chose a successor. I retire on November 30th come what may and will leave the consequences of my sojourn to others. Then I obviously know the job inside out (having done it before) so, by and large, I know how to get things done, and what to do when you can’t. I can call in many favours because I still have many friends and allies out there. Also it no longer matters too much what I say or do – it is too late to make enemies or play managerial politics.

But lastly I enjoy a challenge, and there can be few things more challenging than a medical managerial role in the current NHS. But, to misquote Enoch Powell, “All medical managerial careers end in failure”. This is because trying to change things in the NHS is like wading through cold porridge. But ultimately all your colleagues get sick and tired of you and it is best to go quietly. (I have known some over the years who have gone on far too long and have reaped the dismal consequences).

But I only have six month left – I am ‘an old man in a hurry’, so beware!

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