IN HOUSEHOLDS throughout Scotland last night, the news that a national strike by hospital doctors is now unlikely will have been met with a huge sigh of relief.
A doctors’ strike is not like most other industrial disputes. The people affected are some of the most vulnerable in our society, particularly the elderly and the infirm. Illness is upsetting and disconcerting at the best of times. The thought that hospital appointments might not be honoured and that treatment or diagnosis might be delayed, for however short a period time, simply adds to patients’ natural anxieties.
So, this newspaper welcomes the fact a doctors’ strike is now unlikely in Scotland. This is despite a ballot result which in key sectors of the profession – such as junior doctors – showed front-line staff in favour of such industrial action. Given the low turnout, the British Medical Association concluded there was not a sufficient mandate for a strike that would have had serious and far-reaching consequences for the NHS, not to mention the public’s attitude to the medical profession.
It is always difficult to read motives into low turnouts in any ballot. But it is to be hoped that the majority of doctors in Scotland simply did not see industrial action as something that fitted with their professional sense of themselves and their responsibilities. This, too, is to be welcomed. The ethos of the medical profession within the NHS is a strong one, and we must value the dedication of its staff.
Too often when medics – particularly in our hospitals – hit the headlines, the subject matter does not always reflect well on the profession. These specifics often obscure a more general truth – that our health service is staffed by people whose personal commitment is deep, long-standing and laudable.
This does not mean to say that doctors are happy with their lot. Quite understandably, changes to public sector pensions, in particular, have caused widespread anger and dismay across the public sector.
In particular, the BMA has been exasperated that the Scottish Government – which doctors insist has the power to make separate pension arrangements for the Scottish NHS – has chosen to piggy-back on arrangements decided by Whitehall ministers for England and Wales.
Ministers in Edinburgh insist that if they had gone their own way, any extra cost incurred by separate pension arrangements would have been clawed back by the Treasury. Whatever the rights and wrongs of this issue, it has resulted in some tension between the SNP government and a key section of one of our most important front-line public services.
It now seems, however, that the Scottish Government is moving towards concessions that have managed to satisfy many south of the Border. It is to be hoped that these measures are acknowledged as – at the very least – a basis for negotiation that can answer Scottish doctors’ grievances.
Unwelcome ‘tax’ on commuters
THE annual rise in the price of a ScotRail train ticket above the rate of inflation is as predictable an event as the first swallow of summer, or the first play of Slade’s Merry Xmas
Everybody in the nation’s shopping malls in early November.
There are two pernicious aspects to this price rise. The first is that for most people who use trains on a daily basis during the working week, a rail ticket is not a discretionary purchase.
They need to get to work and, therefore, have to pay in some form for the privilege. At a time when wages are generally failing to keep pace with inflation, and after years of pay freezes in many industries and many parts of the public sector, extra money spent on commuting is in effect an increased tax on work.
The second pernicious aspect is that alternatives are, in many cases, not really feasible. Good though bus services are, they
simply cannot replicate the speed and convenience of a train. And do we really want to drive more commuters on to our already congested roads?
Add to this the high rate of unemployment in Scotland, and the growing trend that jobseekers may have to accept positions far from home just to guarantee an income, and this price rise is a recipe for commuter misery.
ScotRail might legitimately argue that the price rises in
Scotland are slightly less than price rises south of the Border. This is both true and irrelevant. Most ScotRail customers don’t live south of the Border.
The rise is a regrettable extra burden on working people whose household finances are already under strain. It reflects badly on ScotRail itself and the regulators whose job it is to ensure the public gets a fair deal.