Helen Martin: Doctors striking is just a sick joke

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THERE are three doctors, plus one who is retired, in my family. I haven’t asked them how they voted in the BMA ballot which is prompting a day of industrial action on June 21, and I don’t intend to.

I am too fearful that some of them might have voted for action which, like many people, I see as greedy and self-serving and based on a sort of Marie-Antoinette ignorance about the ways of the world.

On June 21, we may find our GP appointments cancelled or rescheduled. We may find our non-urgent operations cancelled with weeks to wait for a new date. “Non-urgent” by the way, doesn’t refer to breast enhancement or face-lifts; it includes artificial hips and, broadly speaking, anything that can wait without killing you. It all depends on how your doctor, or those on his team, have voted.

It’s been 37 years since their last industrial action so they don’t down stethoscopes at the drop of a scalpel. But they blame the Government for reneging on a 2008 agreement resulting in doctors having to work to 68 and contribute 14.5 per cent of their salary towards their pensions.

They say it’s not about greed or preferential treatment, it’s about fairness. To back this up they point out that they are being asked to pay up to twice as much as high-ranking civil servants on the same pay, for the same pension.

What they don’t seem to grasp is that to the rest of us, the obvious solution is to level the playing field and tell the civil servants to pay more too, because both of them are – quite simply – paid too much.

Doctors are held in very high regard in this country. I believe the ones in my family are good, hard-working people who put their patients first. One is a GP who is particularly passionate about patients’ rights, especially when it comes to welfare cuts. He gives his off-duty time to several related causes. His late father was also a doctor who set up a medical charity and worked for the poor in Africa.

But it’s understandable that those of us who have literally had “a doctor in the house” don’t forelock tug or automatically assume that a medical degree gives you the answers to everything.

Doctors can be wrong, make mistakes and have as many failings or delusions as anyone else.

What the call to action illustrates is that some are rather prone to believing themselves worth more than the rest of the population, and more than we are able to pay them since in this instance, we are talking about the conditions of NHS doctors.

Those conditions are way better than doctors in other European countries enjoy and second only to the best private sector equivalent in the world in the US. Average salary for a GP in the UK is £100,000. That’s without working nights and weekends. A pension contribution of 14.5 per cent is certainly a lot. But for that they will retire on a pension of £50,000.

For the sake of anyone who thinks they might be hallucinating, I’ll type that again . . . a PENSION of £50,000. And they think this is “unfair”?

Yes, the Government reneged on an agreement with them. The Government has reneged on agreements with all of us in terms of when we would retire and what a state pension would be worth. For many in the private sector, pensions have gone altogether or have dwindled to four figures. Goalposts change. Promises are broken. Salaries go down. Conditions deteriorate. Budgets reduce and costs rise. That’s what happens in a recession. It’s an economic epidemic. And unless there’s a magic vaccine they’re not telling us about, doctors have no special immunity.

There are many people who are worth less than doctors and who are paid more. There are also many who could argue they are worth as much or more, and who are paid less. Nurses (who are paid much less) didn’t support industrial action. Yet without nurses, much of what doctors do would be impossible.

We should pay doctors well . . . and we do. Even with the proposed changes, they will still be cushioned and cossetted, on an extremely high salary and an unbelievably generous pension to which everyone, including those struggling on the minimum wage, contributes. That’s not fair either.

But then those on the minimum wage of just over £6 don’t have union power, often don’t get sick pay, can’t afford to take industrial action and will have to survive on a basic, state pension.

The wrong path

THERE are drivers, and cyclists, and those who do both. And there’s a constant barrage of accusations and counter-accusations in both directions as respective lobbies argue over rights to the road.

So here’s a question for cyclists who campaigned long and hard for cycle paths. Why don’t cyclists use them? Twice this week I’ve found myself in a long queue of cars in Holyrood Park, unable to overtake a cyclist because of oncoming traffic, while the cycle lanes at the side of the road remain empty.