Bioethics Blogs

Striking out? Should we ban doctors strikes?

by Dominic Wilkinson @Neonatalethics

Consultant neonatologist, Director of Medical Ethics

 

Next week, junior doctors in England and Wales will be taking part in industrial action for 15 hours over two successive days. This is the latest in a series of stoppages since late last year, and relates to a dispute over proposed changes to junior doctors’ contracts and pay. It is the first strike, (and the first in the UK since the establishment of the NHS), to include all medical care, including emergency treatment. Junior doctors will not be at work in accident and emergency departments, intensive care units, operating theatres and hospital wards between 8 and 5 on both of those days.

There are a series of questions raised by these strikes. There are disputed claims about the impact of contract changes on take home pay, on working conditions for doctors and on patient care. There are different views about the actual impact of next week’s strike on patients, on public opinion, or on negotiations about the new contract. But for the purposes of this article, I am going set those specific questions aside, and focus on a more general question. Should doctor strikes (particularly emergency care strikes) be legal, should they be allowed?

Consistency

Doctors are currently legally permitted to strike in the UK.[1] But other individuals who work in key public services are not allowed to strike. So, for example, members of the armed forces cannot strike. Police officers cannot strike. Prison officers can strike in Scotland, but not in England.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.