Bernard Ingham: Unhealthy greed of medics shames profession

To understand the angst behind this column, I must give you a potted history of my working life.

When I became a cub reporter in Hebden Bridge on October 18, 1948, I knew that my hours were not 9am-5pm. For the next 42 years in journalism and the Civil Service I worked as required. When the unions were strike mad in the 1960s and 1970s my conciliation shifts in the Department of Employment were too often 9am-2am.

Nor do you suddenly slope off from Margaret Thatcher’s No 10 when the IRA blows up another bit of England or other terrorists bring down an airliner over Lockerbie.

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Apart from the Official Secrets Act, I signed nothing – certainly no “open all hours” contracts. Like countless others, I just got on with it until the job was done.

It is true that my posts were not what you might call dead-end jobs. They were full of adrenalin and interest. But that was not why I or my team seldom worked just an eight-hour day.

You can therefore imagine my contempt for the medical profession now that it is seeking payment for unsocial hours for doctors working in hospital A&E departments and suggesting charging us all, say, £25 to see our GP to deter needless calls on their time.

Who are these people? Are they as thick as two planks?

Do they understand what they are doing to their profession against the background of hospital scandals? If they do, do they care?

I can only conclude that they are 
so self-centred that they are oblivious to the damage other professions have done to their reputation.

Take teaching, for example. It is not just that the State comprehensive system has manifestly failed; it is that one of the most repellent of Easter experiences is to see the teaching unions in solemn, self-seeking conclave with talk of strikes never far away.

Teachers – the gifted, inspiring and conscientious along with the under-performing rest – are no longer looked up to. They have suffered a disastrous loss of status.

Then, take the legal profession. I know of no other in a decadent Britain with such a reputation for extortion. They used to be openly ribbed about their eye-watering bills in a sector of commerce I was associated with.

They chase ambulances or anything conveying someone who might be manipulated into making a claim for some real or imagined hurt. In the process, they regularly disturb my privacy with unsolicited calls inviting me to sue for an accident I have not had. They help to drive up taxes as they moan at attempts to curb the legal aid racket.

We are even told that law firms were among the major employers of private investigative phone hackers.

The result is that we have about as much respect for lawyers, whether they be honest advisers or rogues, as we do for teachers, accountants (with their reputation for facilitating tax evasion) and the chief executive of Nationwide.

This arrogant nincompoop says we ordinary plebs find it “hard” to understand why top executives should roll in riches while their workers’ pay is frozen. We understand only too well, mate. It’s called abuse of power.

Which brings me back to the medical profession. It could not believe its luck when 10 years ago Tony Blair offered GPs much more for less effort, effectively ending evening and week-end working.

Most of us are now left at the mercy of an unknown locum if things go wrong outside normal working hours as well as finding it difficult to get an early appointment.

The inevitable result is increasing pressure on overworked A&E departments, which are already handicapped by an EU directive’s tender loving concern for the working hours of young housemen learning their trade while experienced consultants enjoy the good life.

So far as I can see, the medical profession – at least officially – does not think this is its problem. It’s up to the Government to sort it out. If I had anything to do with it, the Government would.

I have no desire to work anybody into the ground, still less have doctors so over-stretched that they are prone to make mistakes. But the sooner they recognise their responsibilities to the NHS and their patients the better. Until then, not a penny more until once again they organise themselves properly to look after their flock round the clock

Meanwhile, my angst – and that of millions like me – is not conducive to public health. It’s bad for blood pressure.