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Striking doctors shamed by history

    A demonstrator supports the junior doctors
    A demonstrator supports the junior doctors

    Doctors love to paint themselves as altruists, people filled with compassion for others, concerned only with healing the sick and comforting the afflicted. They're not in it for material gain, oh no, not like bankers and businessmen and those dodgy politicians. They slog away purely to serve humanity. After all, they have taken the Hippocratic oath.

    No one doubts that they work long hours and genuinely care about their patients. But, right now, their halos are looking a tad tarnished. Next month's threatened five-day strikes by junior doctors - whether or not they materialise - has little to do with their stated concern for patient safety, and far more to do with increasing pay and/or lessening workload, while intentionally destabilising the Tory government.

    Their critics argue that NHS doctors are already handsomely remunerated and enjoy the advantages of being in the public sector, such as greater job security, which is why so many foreign doctors want to come and work here.

    One of the hardliners behind the upcoming strikes is Kailash Chand, a former deputy chairman of the BMA council. After tweeting that the Tories were "lower than vermin", he compared Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels - only he didn't even spell the name correctly in the idiotic Twitter hashtag he created, #Gobelsmustbeproud.

    I cracked a bitter smile at this infantile evocation of the Nazis. It was somewhat ironic in view of the little-known episode from the Nazi era which I recently stumbled across - a historic footnote which illustrates that, back then, just as now, the BMA itself was perfectly capable of behaving with callous selfishness to the detriment of distressed fellow human beings.

    Bevan had to 'stuff their mouths with gold'

    After Hitler's rise to power in the 1930s, thousands of German Jewish doctors - along with Jews working in every other profession, of course - had their rights revoked, they lost their jobs, livelihoods and property.

    Naturally, they were desperate to flee abroad. These were some of the finest and best-trained doctors in the world; it shouldn't have been so difficult to find refuge. The British government, ever wary of being inundated with Jews escaping Nazi persecution, put up all kinds of bureaucratic hurdles and the coveted visas were hard to come by. But, ultimately, between 1933 and 1936, 200 Jewish doctors were allowed to settle in Britain and practise here, although only after obtaining a British medical qualification. After this, however, under pressure from the BMA, the Home Office blocked further immigrants from practising medicine.

    Following the Anschluss in 1938, when the situation for Austria's Jews suddenly became critical, the then Home Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare wanted to relax the restrictions and allow in 500 doctors, but the BMA protested and as a consequence the number was reduced to a mere 50.

    Hoare later wrote that he "would gladly have admitted the Austrian medical schools en bloc" and was shocked by the BMA's claim that British medicine "had nothing to gain from new blood and much to lose from foreign dilution".

    Such a specious assertion was surely unconvincing even then. It is clear the BMA was closing ranks to protect the narrow interests of its own members. There might also have been some antisemitism involved.

    In any case, it is safe to assume that the vast majority of those hundreds of Austrian Jewish doctors denied entry later perished in the Holocaust.

    Everyone nowadays considers the NHS to be our finest national asset. Despite its countless failings and inefficiencies, which are glaringly obvious for all to see, it is our hallowed treasure, its mammoth budget ring-fenced no matter how many billions of pounds are poured into the bottomless pit.

    Yet who now remembers how hard post-war Health Minister Aneurin "Nye" Bevan had to struggle in order to establish our National Health Service? And who stood in his way? Was it the Tories perhaps? Well, no. It was the BMA, whose intractable doctors withheld their support for the new public service and threatened to derail the whole thing until Bevan, as he famously put it, "stuffed their mouths with gold".

    Back to the present. Another firebrand urging junior doctors to the barricades is one Jacky Davis, co-chairwoman of the NHS Consultants Association. According to her: "The re-election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party is essential for the very survival of the NHS."

    But I feel Dr Davis would be hard-pressed to explain how Corbyn could safeguard the survival of the NHS (not that its existence is under any threat) when he can't stop his own party from imploding, or even deal with the disgraceful issue of antisemitism within its ranks.

    No one would argue that doctors should not be well rewarded for the vital work they do, or that they should have a schedule more onerous than is strictly necessary.

    A good doctor is highly valued and rightly so.

    That esteem is partly due to the fact that doctors are imbued with an aura of selflessness and sympathy.

    But, as both the past and the present demonstrate, medical practitioners can be as self-interested and obdurate as any other group, particularly when they come under the sway of mendacious, politically-motivated "organisers".

    I'm not much for tweeting myself but maybe I should take up the fashionable pastime, if only to air my views further on this whole sad, drawn-out impasse between a determined government and a militant body of doctors.

    I just need to think of a good hashtag for it. How about #Bevanturninginhisgrave?

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