Leading article: Doctors, call off your strike now

 

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Stripped of any context, the prospect of paying more into a pension, working for several additional years, and then receiving a lower retirement income does indeed look like a raw deal. But the plan to reform doctors' pensions does not exist in a vacuum; it takes place against a background of long-term demographic changes that are leaving a black hole in pensions across both the public and private sectors.

Put simply, with life expectancy rising, gold-plated state retirement schemes are no longer affordable. Regardless of the bald facts, however, doctors are so incensed at the proposed changes – which will see monthly contributions rise by up to six percentage points – they are to go on strike tomorrow in protest. Given that medics' pensions will still far outstrip those of any but the very top private-sector earners, it is a move that looks more like self-regard, if not actual greed, than a justifiable fighting of one's corner.

After all, doctors will remain among the highest-paid public sector workers, many of them taking home more than £100,000 each year. More pertinent still, a doctor newly qualified now can still expect an annual pension income of £68,000, an amount that would cost approaching £2m to buy in the private sector.

There is more here than just the financial nuts and bolts, however. There is also the small matter of patient care to be considered. For all the British Medical Association's protestations to the contrary, it is simply not possible that a day of bank holiday-style, emergency-only cover raises no risks. Of course, doctors must have the right to take industrial action. But the spectacle of closed GPs' surgeries and operations put off – even just "non-urgent" ones – in protest against measures concerned solely with their already ample financial remuneration is hard to defend.

Thus far, medics remain one of the most trusted professional groups in society. And so they should be. But the unseemly fracas over pensions, with patient care coming second to grubby self-interest, is threatening to erode public respect. There is still time. The BMA and its members should do the right thing and call off tomorrow's strike.

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