Being a referee: My experience as a guardian of safe working hours

Paul Murray

Paul Murray is a consultant respiratory physician and guardian of safe working hours at Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals. In this blog, he describes his first six months in this new role.

As I watched my eldest son play football for his club last Saturday my mind wandered back over the last six months of my new role as a guardian of safe working hours.

So far, I have scored a few goals. I have a functioning twice monthly forum meeting and a weekly review meeting with my medical workforce support team, less of my clinical colleagues are asking what an exception report is, I’ve levied a fine, taken part in two work schedule reviews and I even think I’ve bottomed out a local solution to time off in lieu versus pay issues. While it’s taking more time than I first thought – I’ve just dropped a clinic to free up more time – and the software system is still not fully functional, these are mere trifles compared to how good it has been to engage with the trainees and the senior hospital team to get to the present score line. But it is a game of two halves after all and I feel that the culture is slowly beginning to change, which is validation that the guardian role is working. It’s working to protect the trainees and is proving to be both immediate and effective.

Out on the pitch a goal refocuses my attention on my son’s game. It’s a tight cup match and the boys are fired up as we enter the last few minutes. My eyes are drawn to the referee. He hadn’t met the teams before the match but he instilled confidence right from the kick off. The boys inherently understand the referee role and their respect is obvious with this deference being matched by the coaches and parents too. He has been impartial and decisions made have been timely and final.

His control over the match is impressive. He achieves this calmly and affably, his communication clear, the whistle hardly ever blown. When it does blow for a foul, an injury, a substitution the match stops immediately, a change made or a penalty awarded and then the match flows again. There is always lots of noise from the side lines but ultimately the decision is unaffected. The linesmen help but it’s clear who makes the final call. The referee is the one who ends the match, everyone shakes hands and the final score agreed.

Sartre said that football was a metaphor for life and within this beautiful game I feel there is a lot for me to learn, specifically from the referee. I am the referee. The trainees have been playing without a referee for so long, but now I’m on the pitch they are quickly realising my role. It might take a little longer for those shouting from the side lines to understand, but we will get there with clear communication and decisiveness.  The game hasn’t been terribly fair without a referee, but it will be fairer from now on. Now…where’s my whistle…

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