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Voting for an option that’s not an option? This ballot’s got me ticked off

OK, so let’s get this straight. The BMA’s pensions ballot will ask us two questions. Whether we’d be willing to take part in industrial action short of a strike. And, er, whether we’d be willing to strike - even though the BMA has categorically ruled out strike action. Are you following this? No, me neither. Apparently, it’s something to do with obscure legal issues requiring a ‘yes/yes’ vote.

Not to worry, let’s gloss over that slight non sequitur and move onto the BMA’s guidance on the industrial action we’d be asked to take assuming they get that double affirmative . The idea is that we’ll be expected to provide urgent and emergency care only, for a 24 hour period. So yet another sodding Bank Holiday, then? Draw straws for who gets saddled with being the emergency doc based at Mission Control,  so the rest of us can sit at home watching it piss down?

Not quite. The BMA says we must attend our usual workplace, for the usual hours. That’s right. Even though we’re only covering emergencies. So, either one partner does a proper job seeing urgents while the rest of us twiddle our thumbs, or we all muck in and offer each viral sore throat a two hour consultation.

Why? Well, the BMA’s a bit hazy on this. Attending our usual workplace will, ahem, ‘Reassure patients’ and ‘Help allay public concern about the absence of doctors’. Yeah, but it’s weird how they already pull through at weekends and at night without being driven over the edge, isn’t it?

The guidance helpfully goes on to say that I may have, ‘Time during the day which is not being spent on urgent or emergency care’ – no kidding? – and I will need to ‘Take decisions on how best to spend that time’. OK, well, I think I’ll probably pin ‘Save our pensions’ badges on members of the public. Who knows, I might cause one or two pneumothoraces, just so I’ve got something to do.

Anyway, to summarise. Apparently we’ve got little option but to vote yes to an option that isn’t really an option because the BMA has ruled it out and wishes us to take another option entirely. And that option appears to involve us going in as usual, but blowing up campaign balloons instead of sphygmo cuffs, and having to work our butts off the next day to catch up. It’ll certainly have an impact, but only on us.

Any questions? Well, yes. What would happen, in the two-questioned ballot, if we voted no to taking part in industrial action short of a strike – but yes to taking part in a strike? It doesn’t make much sense – but then nor does any of this.

Dr Tony Copperfield is a GP in Essex.