Tom Peterkin: Not even Dr Findlay would have been spared patients’ ire

One wonders what on earth Dr Finlay’s patients would have thought had AJ Cronin’s famous creation ever gone on strike. Perhaps it is easy to imagine the irritation and inconvenience – not to mention pain – caused by 24 hours of cancelled appointments in Tannochbrae.

But what is more difficult to imagine is Dr Finlay idling away a day of protest, ordering more tea from Janet while contemplating his lump sum and agonising over his pension pot.

Mind you, it wasn’t as if Dr Finlay had to grapple with the sort of financial “hardships” that are faced by today’s medical profession.

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Nowhere in Cronin’s novellas did Dr Finlay face the prospect of his pension falling a few bawbees short of a circa £50,000-a-year pension claimed by his senior partner Dr Cameron.

My vague recollection of the most recent television adaptation of Dr Finlay’s Casebook was that an elderly Dr Cameron was reluctant to hang up his black bag and stethoscope.

Surely if Dr Cameron was practising today, the lucrative publicly-funded retirement packages on offer would see him charging out of the surgery to enjoy his autumn years on the golf course in quite exceptionally comfortable financial circumstances.

Perhaps it is not fair to compare today’s striking doctors with the life of a fictional GP who practised before the establishment of the NHS. After all, back then there was no NHS 24 and doctors did more home visits. But there are similarities. In the pre-war Dr Finlay days, medicine was regarded as a vocation. It still is. Dr Finlay would have understood that his was a noble calling that sees young men and women struggle through years of medical school to become highly-respected and incredibly important members of society.

From the howls of indignation that greeted the British Medical Association’s decision to cancel non-urgent operations, GP consultations and outpatients’ appointments on 21 June, it is clear that this industrial action is in danger of harming the regard with which today’s doctors are held by their patients.

Of course, the financial rewards received by doctors are a far, far cry from those troughed by the fat cat bankers, who received enormous bonuses for leading failing financial institutions. But to most ordinary workers outside the medical profession, they do seem extremely well paid. Given the importance of the work they do and the hours they work, most would not begrudge them their healthy pay-packets and generous pensions. But by inconveniencing patients with their strike, the BMA appears to have seriously misjudged the public mood at a time when everyone is feeling the pain of the recession.

By calling for industrial action, doctors are letting down those they chose to serve – the very people whose taxes fund their pay packets – the poor old patients.