This site is intended for health professionals only

Analysis: Low turnout blunts message from industrial action

Taking industrial action over pensions was always a risky choice – all it took was one child turned away from a GP surgery to develop a life-threatening illness and the whole thing would be plastered all over the Daily Mail for weeks.

In the end that didn’t happen, and despite BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum facing some awkward interviews about operations being delayed, the profession emerged largely unscathed.

By the next morning, the message from the Department of Health was that 90% of doctors did not take part and the whole thing was a damp squib.

Pulse’s own figures from phoning around primary care organisations would appear to back that up – certainly in England, if not Scotland and Wales, the majority of areas struggled to get even a quarter of GP surgeries participating.

Which leaves the BMA leadership in a quandary. They know the profession is angry about pensions, but not angry enough to forget their duty to patients. Their action last week did get the issue of pensions in the news, but the overall message of the protest was rather undermined by the patchy nature of the action.

If even GPC stalwarts like deputy chair Dr Richard Vautrey could not persuade their partners to follow the BMA’s recommended course and stop routine care, then perhaps there has to be a change of direction for any further

With Dr Meldrum – the man most closely identified with the decision to hold the first industrial action by doctors since 1975 – leaving the BMA stage this week, that opportunity is there for the taking.

And amidst the wrangling there was some good news – a poll on the eve of the industrial action finding it was supported by nearly a third of the public. There is some public sympathy for doctors; the BMA now need to find a new way to capitalise on it.

Nigel Praities is Pulse’s acting deputy editor