A strike to shatter the idea medics are deified protectors of the ‘sacred’ NHS

Published by The Daily Mail (3rd January, 2024)

A profession that pledges, ‘First, do no harm’ should have ethical qualms about risking patients’ welfare. But last year, the National Health Service was plagued by corrosive industrial actions – and now this selfish six-day walkout by junior doctors demanding a 35 per cent pay rise is the longest continuous strike in its history.

Even Matthew Taylor, a former Labour apparatchik who heads the NHS Confederation, says the ill-timed action leaves the NHS ‘skating on very thin ice’ amid surging winter infections, rising Covid cases and millions of patients stuck on waiting lists.

The British Medical Association (BMA), of course, insists patient safety is its top priority. But Vivek Trivedi, co-chairman of its junior doctors committee, says they are not prepared to be ‘taken for a ride any more’ and must be ‘willing to stand up for ourselves.’ Yet no one should be fooled by such self-righteous rhetoric from activist medics.

Not just because the core claim of these junior doctors about their declining pay levels has been crushed by the influential Institute for Fiscal Studies, which argues that their pay has fallen by 11 to 16 per cent since 2010. A drop yes, but much less than the 26 per cent since 2008/2009 that they claim they have suffered.

Their beloved comparison of earning less than staff in coffee shops collapses faster than the froth on a cappuccino when you consider their gold-plated pensions and future earnings potential as GPs or consultants on six-figure salaries.

These medics’ full-time annual earnings average from £41,300 in their first year to £71,300 for specialists towards the end of training. The fact is the BMA is simply the nation’s strongest trade union – and like any union, it exists to fight for its members’ interests, regardless of any painful wider impact.

Bear in mind that it is such a self-serving body that to its eternal shame it blocked 500 Jewish doctors from fleeing the Nazis, claiming that British medicine ‘had nothing to gain from new blood and much to lose from foreign dilution’.

The BMA fought so hard to protect its members that the government had to slash the number of Jewish doctors allowed to come here to just 50.

Ten years later, it fought even harder against the creation of the NHS to the anger of the service’s founder Aneurin Bevan, who admitted he had to ‘stuff their mouths with gold’ to win their support – a tactic of appeasement followed by too many of his successors as health secretary.

The first major industrial action by consultants was to ensure that they could cling on to their precious private work in 1975. Then junior doctors walked out later that year to protect overtime rates. In both cases, ministers backed down.

Four decades later, junior doctors’ leaders repeatedly claimed a long contract dispute that led to strikes in 2016 was about ‘safety, not pay’ – yet leaked WhatsApp messages showed their ‘only real red line’ was over their own weekend payments.

Publicly, they said the dispute could be resolved if the government was willing to negotiate. Privately, their most senior official said the ‘best solution’ was forcing the government to impose a deal ‘against our support’.

The discussions also showed how the BMA wanted to draw out the dispute for up to 18 months with ‘punctuated’ stoppages to tie the government ‘in knots’.

Eight years later, we see their militant successors engaged in the same dark arts.

The BMA’s self-serving attitude was perhaps best exemplified by Simon Fradd, a member of its negotiating team for the infamous 2004 general practitioners contract, negotiated by Tony Blair’s Labour, that saw their salaries surge to some of the highest in Europe.

He boasted to the BBC that it was ‘a bit of a laugh’ that doctors had lost so little in their contracts after out-of-hours cover was scrapped. ‘It was just stunning really – no one in my position had ever believed we could pull it off,’ he gloated.

Once again, the duplicitous BMA is seeking to exploit public faith in doctors and the weakness of politicians.

There is at last dawning acceptance that the NHS – with all its flaws and strengths – is simply a public service, not some kind of strange religion.

We must face up to deep questions over how to fund decent health and social care for an ageing population without sabotaging economic growth.

Now this six-day action should shatter any lingering sense that doctors – for all their immense skills and societal value – are deified protectors of that ‘sacred’ NHS rather than fallible human beings like the rest of us.

Junior doctors have seen some real wages decline, like many other workers, while they suffer similar cost of living struggles, housing pressures and generational inequalities to other citizens. But anyone who thinks they are fighting for patients is delusional.

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