Review by Steve Fouch, CMF Head of Allied Professions Ministries
Pension arrangements considered 'unfair and unnecessary' prompted the BMA to call its members out on the first industrial action since 1975. The walkout on 21 June followed a strong response to a recent ballot. (1)
Public support for the strike was weak as headlines publicised the pension levels some (admittedly very senior) doctors would enjoy on the new scheme. Many commented: 'I would be happy to earn half of that!' At the same time other public sector workers face similar changes and far smaller pensions. It was also widely noted that the RCN was not taking industrial action, although that is primarily because of a very low turnout to their poll of members on the issue. (2) Apathy or resignation seems to be guiding the nurses' response, rather than higher ethics!
The actual day of action passed mostly without incident. Depending on whose figures you believe, between a quarter and a third of GPs held some kind of action, and between 9% and 25% of all non-urgent hospital procedures were cancelled. (3) Some even reported shorter waiting times as patients with non-urgent appointments stayed away from clinics. While noises at the BMA ARM in June suggested further action is likely, it will probably be jointly with other unions. At the same time both incoming and outgoing BMA Chairs called for further talks between government and unions rather than rushing headlong into further action.
There is little doubt that the medical profession in the UK feels anger at the government, though I suspect pensions may be just the final straw that is breaking the camel's back. This is borne out by the vote of no-confidence in Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (echoing last year's vote of no-confidence by the RCN). Mr Lansley is not feeling the love of the health professions right now, but this seems to be as much to do with the NHS reforms and cost savings as with the pensions issue.
As we continue to struggle with the consequences of the credit crunch, banking collapse, recurring recession and the breakdown of trust in all our institutions, Christians need to pause to think about our response. With rising prices, static pay and pensions, and collapsing social trust across the country, it is the poorest, the elderly and the disabled who are suffering most. Are we concerned with our own hardship or with those of our colleagues, patients, and above all, the most vulnerable members of our society? (4) The danger with the current bout of finger pointing and industrial action is that we can easily fail to see the bigger picture and who the real losers are.
The CMF Blog has looked at the issues around the strike and at some biblical principles behind the ethics of industrial action at cmf.li/MTwF4I