If someone had told me when I joined the BMA over 13 years ago that one day I would be writing a blog about doctors taking industrial action (over anything) then I might have feared for their mental health. After all, doctors are hardly known for their militancy, and yet here we are.
Amid all the media comment, government propaganda and the astonishment of most people, let us take a moment to consider quite how badly the government must have treated the profession for tens of thousands of doctors to say they are willing to take industrial action.
BMA members have issued their trade union with a clear mandate to challenge the government’s unfair and unnecessary changes to pensions through industrial action. A turn-out of 50% with around two thirds of doctors in each of the largest branches of practice in favour tells you all you need to know about the level of anger at the current situation.
You will not hear any triumphalism in this column, nor from the BMA or its members – let’s be clear, this is a very sad day. Doctors don’t enter medicine to take industrial action; they do so to help their patients. They are taking action very reluctantly and as a last resort.
Doctors haven’t taken any form of industrial action for nearly 40 years and the decision to do so must have been an unbelievably difficult one to take for a professional group so committed to their patients. However, you can only push people so far.
Certain sections of the media seem to think that ‘greedy doctors’ should simply roll over and accept anything that is thrown at them, so well are they paid. But doctors have never asked for better treatment, just fair treatment. How can it be fair that a doctor will have to pay twice as much as a civil servant on the same salary, for the same pension? How can it be fair that a doctor will have to work until the age of 68 when a member of the police or fire service will be able to retire with a full pension at the age of 60?
Several disingenuous comments have been made in the media. These must be challenged:
- Doctors are not going on strike. They will be in their usual workplaces, but providing urgent and emergency care only, on 21 June. That means that any patient who needs urgent treatment will be treated.
- The BMA did not agree to the “proposed final offer” – we agreed to consult members, which we did. The same applies to all other health sector trade unions.
- The BMA attended all of the ‘scheme specific discussions’ that took place prior to the final offer being made on 21 December 2011. The government refused to describe those meetings as ’negotiations’ at the time but is now attempting to do so retrospectively.
The message from doctors to the government is very clear: We feel so let down that we are willing to take a step we haven’t taken since 1975. There is still time for you to sit down and negotiate with us in good faith for a fair deal.