The unintended outcome of today’s industrial action

He said he was happy to pay extra for his pension. The country couldn’t afford the national projected pension costs and the economy was in crisis. But, as long as others paid too. He was fed up of being singled out—doctors are soft targets and scapegoats for government. He couldn’t see the judiciary and senior civil servants being treated like this. The greatest injustice was that our pension fund is in the black. For me, however, industrial action just didn’t feel right, I had favoured a more professional approach based on concern for patients and was uncomfortable with a hard line trade union attitude. But, by time the elevator arrived at our floor, I heard myself starting to agree with my colleague.

But, what about patients? Industrial action sounds reasonable based on the facts—when divorced from the day job. Most GPs are softies at heart and, from what I see, the longer you are in the job, the more you appreciate the needs of others. Life is so tough for many people in contrast to our relatively comfortable life. We might grumble about our terms and conditions, but we have a job, an income, and a future. It might be, as some suggest, that those within 10 years of retirement are less militant as they will lose little but, perhaps it’s because they recognise greater injustices and don’t want patients to suffer. I will be away from the surgery on Thursday but our practice has decided what to do. Like most we will pay lip service, pretend to be taking action, but for the most part quietly ensure that no patients are harmed.

Most doctors will fudge the issue, principally because they care. The media will give us a hard time, we won’t get much support from patients, and should prepare ourselves for predictable jibes about golf, inflated income, and how no one will notice our absence. Camera crews will chase around the country seeking quotes from the disgruntled. Not much sympathy for a profession with a pension that is a multiple of the average wage.  Critics will crow that doctors ignored their leaders call to action and suggest the call to action was a failure simply because there will be little obvious disruption.

If the media give GPs too hard a time, our contracts are threatened, the government gloats and, particularly if patients complain loudly, doctors views could change and, not quite as the government and media might expect. Doctors who put patients first, go out of their way to make certain no one suffers, see everyone that should be seen, and quietly ensure the service is protected, might start to question if their professionalism is even valued. Break the vocational approach, deprofessionalise a profession, and you might create what you least want.