Doctors on strike – reflections of a conflicted consultant

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On 1 August 1983, my life changed forever. I started work in the NHS. I lost all that I had known of normal life and have spent the last 40 years working in a broken system. I am in no doubt it needs fixing. Navigating endless demands with inadequate resources has been costly. From the birth of my son to the death of my mother, the NHS took priority. I understand the outrage and frustration we are feeling in the NHS. Yes, things need to change. Big time.

But will a strike work? And is this something Jesus asks me to do? I’m conflicted.

The Scriptures get me thinking.

Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.’ (Philippians 2:3 NLT)

If I walk away and make my point, are you OK with that Lord? Someone else will cover, won’t they? The clinic can be re-booked, can’t it?

Still, patients will be cancelled, and colleagues who cover will be taken away from ‘routine work’. And the queue of suffering will grow some more.

Nevertheless, when all is said and done, the NHS is not playing fair; they expect everything and erode my salary by stealth.

But God, don’t you say:

Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?’ (1 Corinthians 6:7 RSV)?

Yet they have treated me like a slave. The phrase ‘making bricks without straw’ comes to mind. They can’t even provide a kettle and some coffee when I work all night. Enough is enough.

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ; not in the way of eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to men.’ (Ephesians 6:5-7 RSV)

You mean I work for you, Lord?

Well, I am not going in today, the BMA said not to. I need to show the government we mean business.

Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men.’ (Colossians 3:22-23 RSV)

But God, I am not a slave. I am a twenty-first-century medic. I deserve respect and a decent salary. They are taking the mick.

However, you say I should think I work for you, not them, Lord? Do I really have to trust you to meet my needs? Or must I fight and campaign for my rights?

But then I think, ‘What about the patients?’ Over 400,000 appointments and operations cancelled so far. My friend at church sees her hip replacement OPA deferred for weeks or months. A And that is multiplied thousands of times.

Some proverbs come to mind:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.’ (Proverbs 3:27 (ESV)

 ‘He who closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be heard.’ (Proverbs 3:27 ESV)

I guess, just because we can’t hear the pain and distress doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Perhaps, this is something that isn’t all about me?

God, I know you hear and see and feel, particularly for the needy and oppressed.

But what about my oppression as someone abused by the system?

Another Proverb rings hollow:

‘As workers who tend a fig tree are allowed to eat the fruit, so workers who protect their employer’s interests will be rewarded. ‘(Proverbs 27:18 NLT)

I work hard, and they do not care. The rewards are not fair.

Maybe I should ask who does the rewarding? Is it you, Lord, or is it my employers? Surely it is in your hands, God?

Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of doctors support this action. There is a massive mandate to do this. And yet your word says:

’You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you are called to testify in a dispute, do not be swayed by the crowd to twist justice.’ (Exodus 23:2 NLT)

Whatever the BMA says, it all depends on whether or not we see depriving patients of treatment as wrong, I guess?

And are we missing a trick to shine as lights in the world, not as some creepy do-gooders, but because we genuinely care for people in need, like our ancestors did when they started the first hospitals?

‘Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. (Philippians 2:14-16 ESV)

Yes, the Scriptures get me thinking. For me, as a Christian, this is more than just a technicality of employment. There are some visceral principles to think through. It’s different.

Where do we go?

As Christian doctors, shouldn’t we reflect on the impact of our choices with respect to the right to strike? The right to protest is very different and may even be the right thing to do. Withdrawing labour unilaterally, however, looks like it may be destructive and morally dubious. And does it reflect the life of Christ?

Shouldn’t we distance ourselves from the apparently self-seeking philosophy behind this industrial action and instead speak of the love and care we have in our hearts for patients, love that is inspired by the Christ who lived, died, and rose again for them and whose Spirit constrains us to love as he loved?


Steve Sturman is a neurology consultant and CMF’s Associate Head of Doctors Ministries



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