Doctors' leaders have been forced to consider a change of strategy in their pensions dispute with the Government after yesterday's strike won feeble support.
Thirty seven years after the medical profession last dabbled in industrial action, its members chose to ignore the British Medical Association's call to arms and worked normally in droves.
Most spent the "day of action" doing what they would have done on any other day, apparently cowed by public outrage at their threat to withdraw their labour. The Department of Health said 8 per cent of hospital doctors and a quarter of GP practices participated in the industrial action. Around 2,700 operations and 18,750 outpatient appointments were rescheduled, some 9 per cent of the daily average.
The BMA said the Government figures should be treated "with extreme caution". It said that 25 per cent of non-urgent hospital work was postponed and a third of GP practices "have been taking some form of industrial action".
The poor response reflected doctors' desire not to inconvenience their patients, the BMA said. Others saw it differently. "It is sad that doctors now have the same rebranding problem as Jimmy Carr," tweeted Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, referring to the comedian's tax arrangements.
The BMA will consider how to take its protest forward next Thursday, at the conclusion of its annual conference in Bournemouth, where it is due to elect a new leader at the conclusion of the current chair, Hamish Meldrum's, five-year term.
Some GPs have suggested withdrawing co-operation with the NHS reforms as a means of expressing their dissatisfaction.
Dr Meldrum, current BMA chair, said the action should not be judged solely on the impact felt by patients – because it fell short of a full strike.
"It has never surprised me that when it came to the crunch a lot of doctors would not want to take this out on patients," he said.
Hospital waiting lists fall to a record low
The day of action came as the NHS recorded its lowest ever hospital waiting lists.
The number of patients waiting over 18 weeks fell to 149,912 in April – 10,000 less than a year ago and 86,000 less than when the Coalition came to power in 2010. The improvement is in part due to last winter's flu season, which was the mildest on record.