Should doctors strike?

May 31, 2012 by
Blog   1 Comment

Simple enough question, isn’t it?

Do we think it is right that non-emergency surgery and routine appointments will be cancelled for one day on June 21 after doctors voted in favour of taking industrial action over proposed changes to their pensions?

Many non-medics will find it hard to sympathise with complaints over pensions when we’re struggling to keep our day jobs, and pensions have long been abandoned.

Health commentator @RoyLilley warns: Have doctors got a brain between them? Get Back to work in his hard-hitting blog today on

Even the highly politicised NHS GP Jonathan Tomlinson (who tweets as @mellojonny), a member of Keep Our NHS Public , says: ‘I cannot tell my patients I’m striking over pensions when I stopped short of chaining myself naked & feathered outside Richmond House’ [over NHS reforms].

But the action was well-supported with 50% turnout. Results show 63 per cent of GPs voted yes, 73 per cent of consultants, 81 per cent of juniors, 76 per cent of staff and associate specialist doctors, 34 per cent of occupational health doctors and 60 per cent of public health specialists. According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the action is likely to involve doctors attending their normal workplace and providing all urgent and emergency care, but postponing non-urgent work for one or more 24-hour periods. GPs would not take advanced bookings for appointments on the day of action but would be in surgeries to see urgent cases.

The uncertainty in many people’s minds about why they are now going out on strike – the first time in more than a decade – is captured by a brilliant Matt cartoon.

Many medics on my Twitter timeline are pointing out that the vote to strike isn’t so much reaction to financial worries as a line in the sand over changes to the NHS. Other doctors say you should improve all pensions – not just dumb down doctors’ earnings.

Doctors have the right to be heard. Their voices were completely ignored in the run-up to the recent Health and Social Care Bill by politicians. No wonder they are feeling disenfranchised and alienated. Not to mention disappointed in the direction their (and our) NHS appears to be taking. They’re mad and they are not going to take it any more.

But now more than ever they need to use those well-honed analytical skills and not allow the government to turn this into a press rout.

It’s not hard to bat off arguments by MPs such as Dr Sarah Wollaston that such a strike could be dangerous to patients. If that were true, who allowed a four-day Jubilee bank holiday (when no doubt a skeleton staff will be working with no electives performed) to be approved? We’ll be piling up on trollies outside A&E if the system really can’t take a pre-planned day of industrial action that allows acute care to proceed as normal but cancels elective operations.

Yet Roy Lilley has a good point – a lost day of elective operations is unfair on individual patients and will lengthen overall waiting lists too. It is also plain bad PR.

He says: ‘The government is wrong on the doctors’ pension issue. It is also wrong on the NHS reforms but a doctor going on strike is a gift for the Tories who will bind the reform package to doctors and their personal interests.’

Let’s take a poll…



About the Author

Victoria Lambert has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and specialises in health and medical matters. She writes for the Telegraph, the Times, the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Mail and the Mail on Sunday. She contributes to Saga, Geographical and First Eleven magazines – where she is the agony aunt.

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One Comment on "Should doctors strike?"

  1. Claire Coleman May 31, 2012 at 10:26 am · Reply

    One doctor I know very well says the problem is that there is no money, so you can strike all you like but it’s not going to be magicked from thin air. I don’t believe it will be dangerous to patients – as you say, no non-urgent care will be available for the long weekend. But it is terrible PR for a group of people who are generally well regarded.
    If they’re nominally striking about pensions, but actually striking about NHS reforms, they’ve misjudged it very badly. Public perception is that they’re paid better than they actually are and in the current climate I can’t imagine there being a huge amount of sympathy.
    I would say far better for them to have taken strike action over the reforms; or over the fact that hospital accommodation is now run by private companies that put profit above everything else; or over the fact that they have to work rotas written by people who never have to work them which are, frankly, inhumane; or over a number of other aspects of the way the NHS is structured which could actually be changed without a huge amount of expenditure, and would make their lives much better, without losing the sympathy of the public, or allowing themselves to become political footballs.

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