Ahead of the release of his latest children’s book, Amy Gets Eaten, a comical story of a small piece of sweetcorn and its digestion journey, we caught up with Adam to talk about his new book, fears for the NHS and his plans for the future.
If you’ve not already read Adam Kay’s best-selling book, This Is Going To Hurt, or watched the award-winning TV adaptation, it's a stark representation of the heartbreak and trauma our junior doctors and NHS staff are facing on a daily basis. Over ten years on from when Adam left medicine, our NHS staff are under more strain than ever before.
Despite his new children’s book being full of funny yet rather gross adventures of how our food is digested, it’s hard not to think about our NHS and its current crisis when talking to former NHS Junior Doctor Adam Kay, especially after he’s just returned from protesting on the picket line before our interview.
“Personally, I find it heartbreaking" explains Adam. "There's an absolute crisis in the retention of staff in the NHS, there's over 100,000 unfilled roles. How can we expect to provide the service that we want with how many people are leaving in absolute droves? The doctors are not striking for a pay rise, it's pay restoration. When I worked as a doctor, I was getting 25% more in real terms than doctors these days. I'm pretty sure that gas bills haven't gone down 25%, and mortgages haven't and food hasn't. Unless we address this, then the cost is just going to multiply because people are just going to leave. And I don't think the Government have thought this through.”
Not only are NHS staff being paid far less in real terms than ever before, but they’re also being put under immense pressure due to staff shortages, forcing them to cover numerous roles as well as their own.
“When I was doing it, it was never massively paid and it was never massively relaxing, it’s always been a busy job. But now, people are going to work and they're doing two or three people's jobs. We've all covered for someone else, while they’re on leave or on holiday, but you can't do more than one person's job forever, it just becomes unsustainable.
“The NHS is about to have its 75th birthday, it's very difficult to be confident that there's going to be another 75 more unless something shifts in quite a big way.”
Mental health support within the NHS
Over recent years, there’s been a seismic shift in our approach to mental wellbeing and for many of us, taking care of our mental health is just as important as our physical health. While our NHS workers are clearly suffering financially, it’s their mental wellbeing that Adam is extremely concerned about, and it's unsurprising when you hear the shocking statistic about suicide amongst health workers.
“Every single week, two health care professionals in the UK take their lives. Once every three weeks, a doctor in the UK takes their life. These are unthinkable numbers and it's just emblematic of the scale of the problem. There's a lack of support and as well as that, there's a huge taboo surrounding mental health within the healthcare profession. Essentially, I think the health care professions are a couple of decades behind the rest of society, in terms of talking about mental health and then providing the support.”
With our NHS being under such strain, it’s natural for us to want to relieve some of that pressure, and for those privileged enough to be able to afford private healthcare, going private is something an increasing number of us are considering. Many mums in fact are contemplating giving birth at home or in private hospitals due to the current crisis, but Adam is keen for mums to know the realities of going private.
“If you go to a private hospital, you will get posh uniforms, and nicer carpets, and there'll be a wine list, and the food menu will look great. But there is nowhere safer to have an emergency than the NHS. When I worked in the NHS, and you can speak to any doctor or midwife who works in NHS maternity services, you routinely get patients transferred over to you who had very unfortunate things happen, but when the disasters do happen, it's always the NHS who scoop the mums up. I don't know if parents necessarily realise that if something goes wrong in their private care, they'll end up with the NHS because the NHS is the only sector that can deal with emergencies. I know a bunch of families who've had extremely happy, normal, successful deliveries in the private sector. But I've also worked as a doctor and seen the other side of it.”
Adam's latest children’s book
With a series of best-selling books to his name, Adam is also proving himself as a successful children’s author. His latest book, Amy Gets Eaten, is his first book aimed at a younger audience and is all about the rather disgusting topic that our kids seem to find particularly fascinating; yep, you guessed it, it’s poo!
“I've wondered for years why kids don't get excited about the body. It's never seemed as cool as dinosaurs or space or anything like that, but I think it’s the most amazing, brilliant bit of kit. I started writing for seven to 12-year-olds and I did lots of book events and I realised that adults didn’t really seem to know the stuff that I was teaching these kids, either,” says Adam.
Keen to educate us parents just as much as our little ones, Adam had the genius idea of creating his first picture book to open up some much-needed conversations between us and our tots about our wonderful bodies and the way they work.
“I thought for the first one, I would do the very intellectual but important topic of poo because digestion is quite complicated, actually. Most parents aren’t really going to know their large intestines from their small intestines and what all these different types of food actually do for your body.”
Illustrated by his friend Henry Packer, the book is designed to answer all your child’s inquisitive questions about all things poo, digestion and food that they might have. And we must say it’s perfectly timed, with potty training season just around the corner.
With digestion only being one part of the body that our kids are likely to have loads of questions about, we were thrilled to hear that Adam is currently working out what the next picture book is going to be based on. We’re hoping to one day have a whole collection covering the entirety of the body on our bookshelves!
While the topic of this book is very fun and lighthearted, it’s clear how seriously Adam takes childhood reading, and how keen he is to give all children the opportunity to read for pleasure.
“I was involved with World Book Day this year, and I was astonished to hear that for many children, the only books they own are the free books they get for World Book Day. And one of the single biggest determinants of success in later life for kids isn't about what their background is, it's about how much they read for pleasure.
“I've been so heartened by the number of kids who have read my first kids' books. It's been magical. Kids are obviously an extremely honest audience. Adults pretend they like something they didn't. Kids will tell you something's rubbish. But at the same time, if they give you 11 stars out of 10, then they probably mean it!”