Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 73(3) August 2023

The NHS Consultants strike is morally indefensible

by Adrian Treloar

Adrian Treloar pictureThere is no doubt that junior doctors are having an awful time during training and that morale is very low. They work in a hostile environment, with poor support and under huge pressures. Many are leaving the profession. Radical change is needed. And they are poorly paid.

Consultants are also hugely pressured, have had limited pay rises over the last 15 years and are also retiring early and leaving medicine. But they are also still on the 97th Centile for income In the UK. Starting salaries are £88,300 rising to £99,400 after 4 years and then £119, 000 after 19 years. With additional duties, many are on £150,000 or more. Following the 6% payrise now on offer the basic pay rates will rise further to £93.665 to £126,280. We are not hard up.

Real change is undoubtedly needed in the NHS. The current working methods do not support continuity of care and patients suffer as a result. As we design that change, we must recognise that it is not only the doctors who are suffering in the NHS. Other staff are also being bullied. Worse still, so are patients.

Real work is needed to reform the NHS. It is working, but not working as it should. In the end patients suffer.

It is therefore bizarre (and I think morally indefensible) that consultants (who are so highly paid that they are on the 97th Centile for annual income in the UK) should strike for a 35% pay rise. Surely we must campaign to promote good clinical care and sensible, robust health systems. And we must not put he weak, sick and vulnerable at risk by striking.

I know that others in the CMA and beyond won’t agree with this view. But despite the extraordinary severity of problems in the NHS, pay is the central focus of the Consultants’ strike action. The truly urgent issues of NHS reform have been lost in the clamour. To strike for pay is greedy and ridiculous for people who are among the best paid in the country. Striking places vulnerable people who cannot afford private healthcare at risk. To do that is morally indefensible.

We are very happy to publish further discussion on the morality of doctors striking. It is impossible to doubt that not everyone agrees with my view.