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Leading article: The shameful self-interest of doctors


First it was civil servants, then teachers, and now doctors. The list of public sector professions taking industrial action grows only longer. Given the parlous state of government finances, and the sharp squeeze on private sector workers, such widespread obstinacy over still-generous pension arrangements is misguided. From the doctors, it is inexcusable.

The British Medical Association claims that the plans for the NHS pension scheme are deeply unfair. Not only must all work longer, but the highest earners will see their contributions rise to more than 14 per cent, significantly higher than those of similarly paid civil servants.

The arguments are neither financially nor morally valid. On the matter of fairness, the appropriate comparison is not with equivalents in Whitehall – who are part of a different scheme – but with less well-paid colleagues in the NHS. It is in order to protect the latter that doctors must pay more, and that is how it should be.

Neither is there a legitimate financial grievance. Not only are doctors the highest-paid public servants – helped along by a new GP contract, in 2004, which saw salaries rocket and out-of-hours working cut back. Their pensions will also remain bounteous, even after the proposed changes. Medics starting their careers now can expect £68,000 per year after they retire, an income that would require a pension pot of more than £1m in the private sector.

And then, of course, there is the question of patient care. The BMA is stressing that safety is still the priority. While elective hip surgery will not go ahead on next month's "day of action", the sick and injured will be treated in the normal way, much as the NHS functions on a bank holiday. But that is hardly the point.

Until now, doctors have retained their place among the most respected of public servants. Such naked self-interest, at a time of widespread hardship, cannot but call that trust into question. Although the vast majority of the BMA's 140,000 members voted for industrial action, some younger medics are worried a strike will damage their position in the public eye. They are right. The doctors should be ashamed of themselves.