During his first year as a junior doctor based at Enniskillen’s South West Acute Hospital (SWAH), Dr. Andrew Parke experienced first hand the staffing crisis across medical professions that Northern Ireland is currently facing.

“During my time there half of one of the medical wards was closed due to lack of nurses which obviously reduces the number of hospital beds. That would have impacted the rest of the hospital in terms of how quickly people could get out of the A&E department,” said Dr. Parke, who worked as an F1 doctor (first year out of university) at the Fermanagh-based hospital from August 2018 to July 2019.

When asked what pressures he faced whilst working at SWAH, Dr. Parke told this newspaper: “Some of it was just the new experience of starting life in your first year as a doctor, a lot of it was good because you were well supported, you weren’t making difficult decisions about patients on your own. Sometimes you felt a bit more under pressure where there was a busy pace of seeing patients and completing your jobs for the day, clerking in patients into the hospital or writing discharge letters for them to leave hospital or taking blood tests.”

He added: “You’d have your on-call periods which are like out of hours so evenings or nights you were expected to be a bit more independent and initiate treatments, simple things that come up with patients on the wards.”

Currently working as an F2 doctor at Craigavon Area Hospital, when asked if he would choose to return to SWAH if the opportunity arose, Dr. Parke said: “I wouldn’t be against it, I enjoyed my time there overall, all the staff were really friendly and in terms of the modern building it’s a nice environment to work in.”

Dr. Parke, who grew up in Dorset but moved to Magherafelt when he was 12, noted that his father is originally from Derrygonnelly.

“My grandmother still lives there so it was nice to see her more often than I would have growing up,” shared Dr. Parke adding: “I think that’s a lot of the reason why some doctors do come and stay in Fermanagh, because of prior family connections.”

Talking about the struggle of recruiting medical staff in rural areas such as Fermanagh, Dr. Parke commented: “It’s really the problem that young professionals want to be near the city. Even as somebody who grew up in the country, I like being close to Belfast because that’s where my friends from university are.”

He continued: “Locum agencies can pay a premium rate for people to go down to Fermanagh but it can still be a struggle. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the town, I really like Enniskillen, in terms of the town it’s really nice. That’s not necessarily the issue, it’s more a case of distance from where you went to university.”

However, Dr. Parke noted how he knows a lot of doctors more senior than him who did their F1 year at SWAH then later went back employed as a locum.

“I think once people have been down to SWAH, they are much less reluctant to go down again. You get a cohort of people who go there and really like the place so go back,” he concluded.

Dr. Parke is one of a number of junior doctors who feature in the new BBC NI documentary series ‘First Time Doctors’ which aired on BBC One Northern Ireland last night (Wednesday, October 30).

Produced by BelowTheRadarTV for BBC NI, the series is directed and edited by Enniskillen native Ryan Ralph. In the second episode, which will air on Wednesday, November 6 at 10.35pm, viewers are introduced to the world and work of junior doctors in Enniskillen’s South West Acute Hospital where the slower pace of life is a culture shock to Hong Kong native Dr. Jacky Cheng.

Filming over Christmas Eve and Christmas Day the cameras capture the young doctors working over the holidays for the first time, the reality of winter bed pressures and the demands of a night shift in A&E.