With a (junior) doctor’s strike underway, are they unwittingly making the first moves to lower the public’s general perception of them from uncritical adulation to one which is, perhaps, slightly less sycophantic?
In the UK we love our doctors, almost regardless of their performance and certainly to the detriment of our personal health. Of course this has been in no small way due to many years (now, I think, changing) of doctors displaying aloofness, arrogance and patrimony to those they ‘serve’ (and work with) and our willingness to deliberately avoid any understanding of how our own bodies function. We are all too happy to leave it to them and do whatever they say. There is a delicate but delicious irony in the uninformed slavishly following the direction of the partially informed; in the land of the blind, and all that?
But we really do love our NHS and a politician or celebrity can’t even broach the subject without an avalanche of adoration for our wonderful, hard working, selfless health professionals to whom we owe so much. However, it may be that the selfless part of that triumvirate is due to be placed under a bit of pressure should they actually decide to target the sick in pursuit of a protectionist agenda.
Ironically, this strike may owe more to convenience than any of the arguments. The simple reason is, if they don’t strike now their strike mandate will run out and they will have to hold another ballot. You might think that to be a piddling administrative excuse and you might well be right, but they clearly believe that when you have a gun best use it whilst you can.
These negotiations have been issued with an artificial deadline. You might think, if you don’t come to an agreement today then stick with it tomorrow but the position of the BMA is ‘agree now or we strike’, because we’ll have to go through the ballot process all over again and one must assume that they simply don’t want to ‘waste’ the opportunity. One might have thought that negotiations might have to be exhausted before strike action is contemplated but no, the BMA went for this sledgehammer from the off and from there it has always been an ultimatum of ‘agree to our demands or we strike’. Neither side is going to come out of this well.
However, with all this as a background the public, or at least those who aren’t going to have to stay in pain or get a bit sicker because their doctor is simply reluctant to miss this opportunity, remain supportive and that’s very largely due to this government’s incompetence.
You have to admit they are masters at getting things wrong. Boy George does it repeatedly, the Prime Minister uses ‘no ifs, no buts’ far too often and is busy on the most fruitless of negotiations of all time and the Health Secretary is uninspiring and cannot seem to successfully counteract BMA propaganda. They never seem to think things through and that is partly why we are facing a strike that may see doctors eventually be perceived in the same frame as the more traditional self interested groups such as train drivers. Perhaps they would do well to be aware of this.
So what will be the effect of such action? Well, the BMA talks of disruption to patients (note that there is no similar disruption to employers) so what does disruption actually mean. Well, not much to doctors and BMA officials clearly, but it might mean someone in great pain not getting the palliative radiotherapy they desperately need to alleviate that and being consigned to a prolongation of unbearable agony so that the BMA can make a political point. That might be their idea of just action but it certainly isn’t mine.
I would suggest that this dispute be subject to a binding arbitration if the participants cannot agree. Although that would take time to establish acceptable terms of reference, it would be a step forward. However, binding arbitration has never been seen as something that would benefit trade union demands as their mantra relies upon unreasonableness backed up with threats of industrial action which won’t wash in an independent review.
There is no real reason why doctors should strike now except for the intransigence of the BMA and the hopelessly incompetent and also intransigent employer. It’s almost as if someone needs to knock some heads together but that isn’t going to happen so perhaps a cooling off period is needed, followed by a structure for binding arbitration to be employed for the next stage in this rather unfortunate spat.
Even if the strike had been postponed at the last minute, both parties will have lost some credibility and one of them will come up short eventually. Better that, though, than beating up the people who really need treatment.