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GPs? Strike? You must be having a laugh…


A week is a long time in politics, they say. So three weeks is a very, very, very long time indeed. Long enough for the great and good, on the road away from industrial action over pensions, to apparently perform a huge, squealing, rubber-burning handbrake turn.

Because wasn’t it only three weeks ago that LMCs chucked out the idea of GPs considering strike action in protest at the government’s pension plans? Suddenly, it’s back on the agenda. Why? Er, to prevent the Government from scrapping consultant’s final-salary pension scheme. Which means, let’s think, we weren’t prepared to down stethoscopes for our own pensions…but…yes, we might do it do it for our consultant buddies. I used to think that medical politics made no sense whatsoever. And, obviously, I was right.

What makes even less sense is the notion that we GPs would ever actually strike. Our CFS-like energy levels militate against militancy. And we’re about as cohesive and coherent in our views as those who get turfed out the average Basildonian pub on Saturday night en route to A&E.

At least, those are the usual reasons cited for our inability to take concerted industrial action. Well, that and the fact that we love the punters too much. But I think there’s an elephant in this particular room. And it’s this: we know that it’s quite possible that, if we did all march self-righteously out of our surgeries for 24 hours, no-one would notice. That’s not to denigrate the GPs’ role – I know what we do, and I know we do it well. But, in terms of headline-grabbing stories, what would strike action in GP-land achieve? Here, in Swindon, a 36-year old lady is unable to have her ears syringed. Here, in Vange, a teenager cannot get that appointment to tell him that he cannot have antibiotics for that cold that he cannot believe is not flu. And here, in Basingstoke, a man is deprived of his annual blood pressure check. Until tomorrow. Morbidity and mortality completely unaffected and the nation’s media yawns…

The point is, the nature of our work doesn’t really lend itself to strike action. A few infarcting adults or meningitic children might grab the public’s attention – but they’re not going to be rattling the surgery’s locked doors in near-death desperation, they’ll be off to A&E as per usual. All of which might be grist to the mill of those who think that maybe we don’t really need GPs at all, and are hell bent on fragmenting and deconstructing primary care.

So maybe it’s just as well we’ll never strike. Besides, there is non-strike industrial action to consider. Such as, according to a consultant paediatrician quote on Pulse’s lead story this week, ‘working without enthusiasm.’ Now that’ll bring the Government down.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex