Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Should doctors strike about their pension and expect the public to support them?

I am saddened by the news that the majority of doctors have voted in favour of the British Medical Association (BMA) ballot calling for strike action. Today, the chairman of the BMA announced that half of its 104,000 members took part in the ballot and a high proportion of GP’s, Consultants and junior doctors will be taking direct action for 24 hours on June 21st.

Are they unhappy with the NHS Reforms? Are they worried about patient safety? Do they fear for closures of hospitals? Are they concerned about budget or staff cuts, care in the community, public health inadequacies? Probably all of the above. But what are they striking about?

Their pensions.

I spend a significant amount of my working time with doctors and consider myself fortunate to work with such professional, caring and committed individuals (usually). So I am really surprised to read that doctors will, in effect, down tools for the first time in 40 years.

There are quite a few ticking time bombs affecting the health sector at the moment. Obesity, Diabetes, lifestyle generated diseases, chronic conditions…. and pensions. Anyone with an iota of financial acumen and a sense of reality knows that the private sector recognised the pension black hole years ago and started reining in the employers’ exposure. Final salaries pensions are unsustainable without increased contribution form the employee. Average salary pensions are a realistic alternative. Of course no-one wants to see their nest egg depleted through no fault of their own but it’s a tough world out there right now. No-one would dispute that the medical profession is awash with worthy, hard working individuals who care deeply for their patients. But I believe that this call for industrial action is damaging and probably futile.

A BMA statement explains how the strike will be implemented as follows:

‘Non-urgent work will be postponed and, although this will be disruptive to the NHS, doctors will ensure patient safety is protected. All urgent and emergency care will be provided and we will work closely with managers so that anyone whose care is going to be affected can be given as much notice as possible. Patients do not need to do anything now.

“We will also run our own publicity campaign to make sure that members of the public understand what the action will involve and how they can find out what it might mean for them and their families’

What this will 'mean for them and their families' on June 21st is that although clinical staff will be on-site, most operating theatres will be idle. Outpatient clinics will fall silent, minor procedures suites empty and GP surgeries may be open, but not for their daily business. Patients will be inconvenienced and some may well suffer as a result of delayed consultations, tests or surgery. The resulting backlog will not just affect patients – just imagine the hassle for support staff in hospitals and surgeries dealing with this backlog.

The public purse is being squeezed till it bleeds tears of pain and desperation. Money needs to be allocated with wisdom, compassion and fairness. Taking a day out of the packed theatre lists, clinic sessions and GP appointments will result in a shameful waste of a precious resource.
The BMA assures us that patient safety won’t be compromised and I have no reason to doubt this. But one thing that will be compromised is the public perception of a profession that they have long held, with good reason, in very high esteem.

The elderly lady with a crumbling hip surviving on a state pension may not be as sympathetic to the BMA members as they might hope.


Rob Dickman said...

This first ballot for industrial action since the 1970s demonstrates clearly what really matters to the BMA/doctors.

Saving the NHS = some very cross words.

Stopping having to pay more for their (already generous) pension = a ballot on industrial action.

Depressing isn't it? But really not all that surprising - the BMA, both as a professional group and opinion formers/leaders, are a bit of a joke these days.

I hope they win the ballot, get their bag of swag and increase further the gap between them and the people they purportedly serve - after all, they are just SO deserving over other (poorer paid) public sector staff....

Rob Dickman said...

Sorry....*win the strike action*....

Finchers Consulting said...

Most doctors I know don't even seem to be members of the BMA, or maybe they are just denying it becasue my views, like yours - are pretty clear!

Post a Comment