The former junior doctor, 42, whose book This Is Going To Hurt became an international bestseller and was made into a Bafta-nominated TV show, talks about how to survive in a plunging lift, the future of the NHS and why he’s best friends with Paddington Bear.
Your new , The List Of Absolutely Everything That Might Kill You, sounds interesting…
Yeah. Matt Edmondson and I have been pals for 13 years but we’ve never worked together, so this is an exercise in whether that was the right decision. I was thinking about the hidden dangers of life and what we can potentially do to stay alive if, for instance, the lift you’re in starts plummeting to the basement.
So what can we do if that happens?
Some people think you can jump in the air but you still die if you do that. What you can do is take off your jumper, roll it into a ball, put your head on it and lie in the corner. Actually, for a lot of these things the answer is to curl up into a ball and hope for the best.
Does dying play on your mind?
I’ve experienced it in my former professional life so much that I think I was slightly desensitised to it, but I don’t lie awake at night fearing the reaper.
How have you taken to life as a celebrity since This Is Going To Hurt became a global bestseller?
[Laughs] I’m not a celebrity! It’s somewhere between an F- and J-lister. I get spotted about once a month – that’s not a celebrity. It’s obviously weird but for me it’s a question of using my powers for good.
One of the huge things that I work on is death by suicide among healthcare workers. There are a couple of charities – the and – that I work with. , which is unthinkable.
You stopped being a doctor in 2010, when approval ratings for the NHS were through the roof…
I know! I write about how tough my life was and it turns out those were the good old days in terms of funding. My pay packet, which was never mega-bucks, was 25 per cent more in real terms than junior doctors get now.
Do you think your book has put people off becoming doctors?
I get so many notes from people saying, ‘I read your books and it emboldened me to go into the profession.’ It’s a job you should go into with your eyes wide open. I get the occasional message saying, ‘My grandchild, or someone, was thinking of doing medicine but they read your book and now they don’t want to.’ The answer to that is ‘Good’. If the book is going to put you off medicine, then medicine is really going to put you off medicine.
What do you see as the future of the NHS?
The NHS is about to have its 75th birthday, and I don’t know the odds on it having another 75 years. I find it very distressing.
Is it the best system?
One hundred per cent. There’s no fairer way to apportion healthcare than ‘free at the point of service’ based on your clinical need, not your bank balance. I write about health all the time and the comments are always,…’ but there are some people for whom £5 is the difference between .
Take America, where healthcare is the number one cause of bankruptcy. No one in this country goes bankrupt because of their medical bills. It would absolutely break my heart for the NHS to go.
What did you think of the TV adaptation of This Is Going To Hurt?
Well, I’ve got skin in the game because I adapted the scripts myself. I thought that Ben Whishaw and Ambika Mod in the lead roles were top of the range.and I’m so glad that so many members of that team have been recognised. The writing is actually a relatively tiny bit of it.
Are you besties with Ben now?
Yeah, we’re mates. He’s just the nicest man. He’s everything you’d hope he’d be.
Well, he is Paddington Bear…
It doesn’t get better than that. He’s a proper national treasure.
So, what’s next?
I’ve got a new show at the this year. It’s called Undoctored and it’s based around my latest book for adults, .
And I’ve got a picture book for tiny kids about poo. We follow a piece of sweetcorn going through the digestive tract.
Have you ever made friends with a patient?
[Thinks] I don’t think I have. I’ve had the opposite, though…
What, you made an enemy?
No, no, not quite. I worked on a labour ward long ago – I’ve done book signings of adult books and a couple of people have come along and said, ‘You’re not going to recognise Sophia but you delivered her!’ There’s nothing like that to make you feel old.
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