Rachel Clarke: Author Talk Review

on Friday, 13 October 2017. Posted in Events

Rachel Clarke: Author Talk Review

‘The most frightening experience of my professional life was not those hours spent under fire in Congo’s killing fields but my first night on call in a UK teaching hospital.’

As part of Trowbridge Art’s BookFest, doctor and author Rachel Clarke gave an emotional talk in which she spoke about her life and her new book Your Life in my Hands. Clarke grew up in Wiltshire and her first career was as a TV Journalist. Despite her success, she couldn’t shake the feeling she was meant to do something more. At the age of 29, she decided to retrain as a doctor. ‘I just wanted to help people’ said Clarke. Medicine was a family passion. Clarke’s mother was a nurse and there had been four generations of doctors on her father’s side.

Clarke’s talk was both hilarious and moving, but there was no shying away from the seriousness of her subject matter. Clarke spoke candidly of matters including junior doctor suicide rates, the already ‘catastrophic’ impact of Brexit, and her personal struggles to retrain as a doctor while earning very little money and married with children. She shared with the audience two anecdotes from her book. The first concerned a married couple trying to conceive their first child, an almost insurmountable challenge for two doctors. Due to the difficulties of syncing their hectic schedules, they had no choice but to organise brief unromantic liaisons in cockroach infested on-call rooms where ‘the sheets were never washed’. The second story was a heartbreaking tale of a surgeon’s struggle to save a child’s life despite a lack of beds and the callousness of a bed manager who would have had the surgeon turn her away, risking her death.  

Clarke does not shy away from discussing the challenges faced by doctors. Jeremy Hunt’s speech in 2015 in which he criticised NHS staff and discussed plans to introduce a seven-day working week has become infamous. Clarke spoke about the impact this speech had on herself and her colleagues, describing it as a dark time which left her feeling as though there was no choice but to take action. She began the junior doctors strike with only one friend, sleeping all night outside Jeremy Hunt’s office. The next day, doctors from all over the country rallied to join her. The strike was well publicised, but Clarke’s account of Hunt hiring a bodyguard and sneaking into his own office through hidden entrances to avoid speaking to the strikers is something often omitted. As was the fact that the very bodyguard Hunt hired to ‘protect’ him personally delivered her a cup of coffee to let her know of his support.  

Since the publication of Clarke’s novel, her job has been in constant jeopardy, with her Trust accusing her of abusing her ‘corporate responsibility to protect public confidence’. However, to preserve the future of the NHS it is vital that doctors are listened to, as they are the best placed to know how to fix the problems it faces. In Clarke’s view, the answer is simple. The NHS needs more funding, more doctors, and deserves more respect.

If you are unable to see Clarke talk in person, I highly recommend buying a copy of her book. It is available for sale now at both high street retailers and through online booksellers in both physical and digital formats.

Review By Adele Matterface