Doctors' protest at raid on their pension scheme



As a keen reader of Dominic Lawson I was disappointed with his piece on the industrial action proposed by the British Medical Association (19 June).

The Government wants to change a sustainable pension scheme for the purpose of raising much-needed funds for the national economy. But why single out doctors, when there are plenty of civil servants on similar incomes being spared such changes to their pension scheme? Why not raise the top tax rate for high earners, rather than take it from a sustainable pension scheme?

But foremost what doctors resent is that they should be forced to work up to an age in which many believe they no longer might have the capacity to exercise their profession responsibly. Mr Lawson please, ask yourself, would you happily go under the knife with a 68-year-old surgeon?

Dr Roland Strauss

Harrogate, North Yorkshire


So you get a good pension if you retire at 67. The downside is that the life expectancy of a professional working at a high level of intensity to 67 is likely to be greatly reduced, based on data for doctors retiring at different ages, so you'd be lucky to enjoy much of it. Which is probably why an annuity for such a pension with a retirement age of 67 would not cost £2m, it would in fact be just over half that.

Mr Lawson, a word of advice: I'd change your pension adviser before changing your doctor.

Dr Christoph Lees

London W14


Doctors taking action on Thursday will all be at their normal place of work, ready to deal with urgent or emergency cases. We will not be on the golf course. If any patient such as Mr Lawson describes arrives, that patient will be seen and treated if necessary. People may be inconvenienced, which I very much regret, but not harmed.

I hate the very idea of this action. It is not what I am about. However if my employer refuses even to speak to me, how else can I get their attention?

Dr Crispin Best



I have been proud to be a professional for more than 40 years. I am a qualified accountant. I have always believed that acting in a professional manner doesn't, for example, include taking part in strikes. Professionals sort out their grievances in other ways.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the current dispute in the medical profession, taking strike action is not a professional way of acting. Doctors are doing themselves possibly irreparable damage. There is a unique relationship between patient and doctor and the medical profession would do well not to damage this relationship by acting in a non-professional way.

David Thomas

Bowness on Windermere, Cumbria


A factor doctors and many other public-sector workers do not realise is that Britain is effectively bust. The Coalition Government is doing a reasonable job of managing the debt situation by a combination of deficit reduction, cutting services, restructuring others, and re-evaluating the cost of public sector pensions. All these measures help to keep down the interest payments the Government has to pay to borrow to keep the country afloat.

It is understandable that doctors are disappointed that a previous pensions agreement appears not to apply now, but that is because the country has a severe debt situation that the Government is risking huge unpopularity by attempting to reduce. They are doing this for all our sakes and for future generations.

Elizabeth J Oakley

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk


Dominic Lawson is scaremongering. I am seeing an NHS consultant on Thursday, having been referred by my GP under the "two-week rule": my symptoms indicate I could have cancer. There is no suggestion that urgent consultations are to be cancelled.

I have experienced both private and NHS care recently and both were the best they could be. A few people will have appointments cancelled, but not if they are deemed to have life-threatening conditions.

Mary Callan

North Ferriby, East Riding


Lesson for Britain in the euro crisis

It seems to be obligatory to give thanks that the UK did not join the euro. What is overlooked, however, is that the eurozone could (would?) have been very different if we had been members from the beginning.

As the second-biggest economy in the zone, we would have had a major say in its operation, in particular in setting and implementing the rules. We would have greatly strengthened the "northern European" bloc which does not share the more cavalier attitudes of some other countries towards tax-paying and rule-keeping.

As things are turning out, it looks likely that some kind of fiscal union will emerge, led by Germany, of which the UK will be on the outside.

Another lesson which those of the UKIP/SNP tendency would do well to learn from recent events is that no individual country can remain immune from economic forces elsewhere. In a globalised world, we shall need increasingly globalised decision-making by governments. In other words, ever more pooling of sovereignty.

Alan Pavelin

Chislehurst, Kent


The point about honours and class

Sir Bob Kerslake (letter, 20 June) seems to have missed the point. No one is questioning that recipients of honours are proud to receive them or that the majority were awarded for good works to charity and the community. The point is how the level of award to be given is decided.

If you are in the armed forces or the Civil Service the process is clear. Generally the level of award is given according to rank or civil service grade. If you are a caretaker in a government office it will be the BEM, if a lowly Executive Officer, it will be an MBE, whereas the old Grade 7 would get an OBE and so on.

But how is it decided for those who do not belong to a strict hierarchy? I have looked at the nomination form and nowhere does it give any place where the nominator can recommend which award they think appropriate. This, of course, is decided by the honours committees. So what criteria are used to decide the level of the award to be given?

These criteria should be made public. Why is it thought appropriate to give some CEO a knighthood for charitable work, whereas a housewife who has given years of effort to charity only worthy of a BEM or MBE?

It is difficult to avoid the feeling that some principle of "social rank" is being applied. The charge that the honours system perpetuates class consciousness is still on the table and Sir Bob Kerslake's letter does not address this question.

Chris Elshaw

Headley Down, Hampshire


The right to be helped to die

Christina Patterson writes that everyone has the right to kill themselves, but not to be killed (20 June). I also have the right to live. If I was dangling off a cliff and could not pull myself up, I would hope someone would help me, as although I have the right to live I would need help in this situation to exercise that right.

In the case of suicide, if we acknowledge that every person has to decide whether or not their life is worth living, we need to be willing to assist them. This is an act of charity and respect for their autonomy, not murder.

It simply isn't the case that voluntary euthanasia leads to involuntary. Respecting the freedom of the individual to judge the worth of their own life is a far cry from going around killing everyone we deem to have a worthless life.

Henry St Leger-Davey



Why parents pay for education

Martin Callaghan asserts that people send their children to independent schools only because "they believe that this will give [them] a huge advantage over those children whose parents cannot afford to do so" (letter, 15 June). This generalisation fails to appreciate the many and complex reasons why parents opt out of state education.

The majority of parents would like to find a school where their child will thrive. Unfortunately, for some children that environment is not offered in state schools. Academic or musical talent is often denigrated within the prevailing culture, and children who have such talent are bored, or worse, bullied for it. Faced with a deeply unhappy child, what parent would not seek the alternative? The real tragedy is that the opportunity to learn in such an environment is denied to so many.

Again, if you actively want a school that offers strictly enforced discipline and uniform policies, has selective entry, plays competitive sport other than football, and teaches minority subjects such as Latin, you are unlikely to find it in the state system.

Steve Travis



Learn your16-times table

Further to the matter of memorising tables, and the 12-times table (letters, 16, 20 June), when I was at school, not only did we still use 12 pennies in the shilling (and 12 inches in the foot) but also 16 ounces in the pound and 14 pounds in the stone. But we were not required to learn the 14- or 16-times table.

Actually, I find that I can now do the 16-times table, although I hadn't consciously memorised it, possibly because of a lifetime working in computing, where hexadecimal arithmetic – base 16 – was useful. Nowadays, the nearest I get to hexadecimal arithmetic is doing the super sudoku in the Saturday paper.

Paul Dormer

Guildford, Surrey


A choice of predators

John Swift talks of legitimate concerns in relation to predation of game birds (letter, 19 June). One might also question, from an environmentally ethical perspective, whether it is legitimate to artificially enhance natural populations of a wild species only to provide humans with entertainment and profit as they are shot out of the sky.

From a grouse's viewpoint I suspect I would rather take my chances in the natural order of things with a buzzard or a hen harrier, than with a man, his dog and his gun.

Jo Kennedy

Todmorden, West Yorkshire



I've recently returned from a holiday in Zambia, where the people have elected a new government which is trying to do away with the system of demanding extra money for a job you are already being paid to do. There are large posters on the walls in every town explaining how this can bring about the destruction of the nation – they call it "corruption". Here, we call it the "bonus culture".

Wendy Bond

Greenhead, Northumberland


Second opinion

Further to Peter Ward Jones's plea for clarity and understanding when talking of billions (letter, 19 June), I'm reminded of John Allen Paulos's explanation in his book Innumeracy. He, too, found talk of millions and billions disorientingly large. He helped put things in perspective by explaining that a million seconds equates to around 11.5 days, whereas a billion seconds is just over 32 years.

Steve Tetchner

Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex


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