Where are all the maverick, individualist hospital doctors?


What is wrong with the NHS hospital doctors and consultants?

They must surely understand by now that their unprecedented joint strike action later this month is damaging the fabric of the NHS, which they claim is their reason for taking action.

I understand their reasons for initially calling a strike. I believe the government made another massive mistake in refusing to talk to them and imposing their six per cent raise (plus an extra lump sum for junior doctors).

But equally, there must come a point when the waiting lists are so impossibly long as a direct result of all their industrial action – that it will create a crisis in healthcare in the UK. And far worse and more permanent than what they are clearly bargaining for.

I am particularly upset by the stand taken by consultants, who are already paid considerably more than the vast majority of their patients.

After 19 days of strikes so far by BMA junior doctors – before the four days over the next month when they will co-ordinate with consultants – I think maybe the time has come to think about their poor patients instead.

Why am I not just blaming the government?

I am and I do. But there comes a moment when you have to think about individual patients who are really suffering as a result of their action. I don’t expect anything more of the government – all I can do is to hope the professions will protect me and mine…

When doctors began striking in March, I wrote the following slightly tongue-in-cheek blog:

“In fact, this might be a good moment to learn the lessons of the social critic Ivan Illich, who used to extrapolate from findings that doctors were more scared of dying than the rest of us, to accuse them of being carriers of infectious fright.

You can feel the truth of this whenever you tune into Radio 4, which seems to spend a great deal of time urging us to see our doctors.

“Illich was writing just after the Israeli doctors’ strike in 1973 saw mortality unexpectedly go down. This happened in all three Israeli doctors’ strikes and, in two out of the three times, it went down by half.

“This should not be a surprise, given that the mortality also dropped when Los Angeles physicians went on strike in 1976, and in South America the same thing happened – as it did in Canada in the 1960s.

“Oddly enough, deaths do rise when nurses go on strike, though we pay them far less. I’m not aware of any information about what happens when paramedics go on strike…

Why? We don’t know. I am not agreeing with Illich that medicine damages health. I am suggesting that there are too many interactive elements to our complex medical systems which we don’t yet understand.”

What most concerns me now is the number of votes in the BMA’s most recent ballot of their junior members about the strike. Over 98 per cent of junior doctors backed more action.

Presumably, given that only 718 them voted against (less than 2 per cent), that the only way for doctors now to express any divergence from mainstream opinion, was simply not to vote – and nearly 30 per cent did so.

This is not a good advertisement for the medical profession these days. It was not nearly such an impressive statistic as the BMA clearly believes.

It smacks instead of groupthink, of the pressure for ideological purity from those who are more ideological.

Where are the doctor’s ‘silver birches’, the disagreements, the individualists, the mavericks that any profession needs to survive and thrive in the future?

Or have the years of battery by target and tickbox led to the end of their ability to think for themselves?

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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