Doctors’ strike: Is it really just about greed?
Today is the day where doctors (some, not all) take industrial action over government planned pension reforms; its arrival set against a backdrop of great controversy and debate.
Dominic Lawson’s piece in the Independent earlier this week, ‘The public think our striking doctors are greedy and they are right’ articulates the roar and unsympathetic sentiment felt towards doctors, by many in the UK.
“But why single out doctors?”, asks Dr Strauss from Harrogate in his correspondence.
Strauss continues: “When there are plenty of civil servants on similar incomes being spared such changes to their pension scheme? Why not raise the top tax rate for high earners, rather than take it from a sustainable pension scheme?”
He raises bona fide questions which a myriad of other doctors within the NHS, whom I have spoken with in recent weeks also share but say they are too fearful to speak publicly.
One hospital physician who did not want to be named stated indignantly to me:
“To compare us [doctors] with bankers, who get corporate perks, bonuses, paid taxis after late finishes, meals provided etc. is utterly ridiculous”.
Continuing, he says: “If I had my time again, I wouldn’t do medicine”, swiftly followed by “In fact, a lot of people, if they had their time again wouldn’t do medicine and we now actively discourage people from doing so”.
There is a sense that the public fail to realise that doctors start their financial working lives much later, with hefty student loans.
Another physician I spoke with explained:
“Doctors do exams to get into medical school, then spend five to six years studying at university and then have on-going postgraduate exams throughout the course of their medical/surgical training”.
Continuing, she adds: “There is quite a lot of work outside working hours, compulsory audits, personal professional development, research to facilitate career progression, so much bureaucracy – not to mention the accompanying bullying in the workplace, marital breakdowns, alcohol and drug abuse and mental health issues”.
Soon the debate turns to nurses.
“We respect the work nurses do, but they don’t have to make life and death decisions, nurses don’t spend five years at medical school and still have to undertake post grad exams in their thirties, I’ve spent thousands of pounds on sitting exams”. One physician says exasperatedly. While another says despondently:
“They’ve got us over a barrel, all we are is a crisis service. The government are slowly devaluing the profession; nurses are taking over doctors roles as they are cheaper”
But what about “the vocation” I ask?
“Medicine is no longer a vocation, because of NHS managers it’s just a job” she says.
If medicine is just a job, service provision then it is then subject to market forces and the provider of that service can go elsewhere, albeit private practice or overseas such as Australia where remuneration is much higher. Often the last bastion of the discussion rests on medical ethics – “the Oath” and thus I speak with Dr Miran Epstein, a Reader in Medical Ethics at Queen Mary university of London.
“The British government seems to be determined to destroy the NHS. If an industrial action against this policy is deemed unethical, then what does this say about the ethic?” Epstein asks.
Explaining in more detail, Epstein says: “The interests of the doctor and the patient may not be the same. However, the fate of the doctor is linked tightly with the fate of the patient. They have a common interest: to protect the NHS. If this requires striking, then so be it”.
Epstein vehemently believes that the medical profession must address the anxieties and issues of the patients and explain that “ it’s [doctors'] war is their [patients'] war, too.”
“If medicine is destroyed, patients will be unhappy too. It should also convince the patients that the government, not the doctors, must take full accountability for the effects of the strike.”
Should British doctors be striking today? My opinion is still as yet undecided. I can understand both perspectives that of the public and those doctors striking today.
Indeed in a time of austerity and great unemployment doctors are paid relatively well compared to other sectors of society. There are a plethora of doctors who I have met over the years who are passionately dedicated, committed and have made many personal sacrifices for their profession and patients – and this should be recognised. The public and commentators undoubtedly will formulate their own opinion and are entitled to do so, but it is worth remembering that there are other factors at play than simply greed.Tagged in: doctors' strike, GPs, hospital, medicine, nhs, nurses, pension
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