Almost every day, the national media broadcasts reports in one way or another inferring that
doctors are becoming greedy and focused on maximising income rather than patient care. Being a medical student, I feel I am in a unique position to discuss whether doctors are indeed becoming greedy. On one hand, I consult doctors as a patient. I also sit in with doctors during their consultations and observe what goes behind the scenes in the GP surgeries, outpatients
departments and on the wards. Thirdly, I will be a doctor next year.
As a patient…
As a patient, I am bombarded with strong anti-doctor messages from the media. I question the
fairness of the General Practice abandoning the out-of-hours service yet being rewarded with a
good pay rise. Whilst GPs may not govern their pay structure, it is the NHS and those of us who
use it, who pay for any increases, albeit indirectly (1). I can only sympathise with the general public in their feeling of alienation when getting the messages from the media that some doctors are apparently earning up to £250,000 a year whilst hospitals are closing wards, British nurses leave for Australia and women in labour are left to cope on their own due to lack of staff. What is the general public supposed to think when they read a report that “Half the new investment in the NHS hospital budget in the past year has been spent on higher pay for staff” (2)?
As a student doctor…
As a student interacting with doctors on a daily basis, I mostly see doctors who are highly
committed to patients, who are diligent, selfless and hardworking. I meet some doctors who would do their job for half their current salary and would still be happy (3). I also see the chaos created by the numerous managers and politicians who seem to be at the heart of the National Health Service’s misfortune and doctors’ frustration. As someone who will soon be working in the NHS, it truly hurts me to see doctors being vilified as money grabbing fat cats who are apparently thinking only about their next BMW. Of course I am all for doctors being adequately paid but I believe that pay rises should mean correspondingly more services to the patients.
Who is at fault?
Most doctors just want to concentrate on their patient’s care. Most patients appreciate this. Yet
time and time again there springs a question of doubt: “Are doctors becoming greedy and focused on maximising income rather than patient care?” As Elizabeth March (1) points out, “the fact that this is an issue at all reflects a deeper undercurrent of dissatisfaction” with and within the NHS. If we were just after cash and the GPs indeed were earning what the media reports, surely, there would not be a potential shortfall of 1,200 GPs predicted for 2010/11 (4)!
Personally, I do not think that doctors should be blamed for taking what is already on offer. It is only a human nature to desire more money for less or easier work. I cannot imagine anyone in the right mind saying: “Please would you stop giving me more money. I don’t know what to do with the last lot”. The question is whether those making the offers are competent in what they do. I cannot comprehend why, for example, completing a cremation form pays over £60 for 20 minutes of work that I thought is one of doctor’s every-day jobs? Equally, I don’t quite see why junior doctors, who would like to pay off their mortgage, would refuse this “cash for ash” when it is already in place. So please don’t call them greedy.
Getting the balance right I want to be honest. Perhaps like you, when I am offered a good salary, I am not going to say “no”.
Call me naïve, but I would like to think that come the time when I earn £100,000, I would give back to the community by supporting a hospice or a school for the blind. I bet many young doctors have equally deserving aspirations. So it hurts me when doctors collectively, as a profession, are referred to as greedy. Individual doctors should not be blamed for the glitches in the system, regardless of how much they earn. Of course, there should be a balance between furthering the welfare of the medical profession and improving services to patients. Those who are in charge of the distribution of NHS services and approving doctors’ salary should be the ones who oversee this balance. When patients start to feel they are getting a fair deal for the tax they pay, doctors won’t be picked on as being “overpaid”. Until then, we will remain the workforce of the NHS trying to act in the patient’s best interests. Despite hurtful labels, we will be doing our best to overcome the obstacles created by the ever-increasing influences of bureaucracy and the media. Most of us are caring, noble and altruistic. We need to unite as a profession to protect this image.
1. Marsh, E. Remuneration of GPs. BMJ 2007 [cited 2007 Feb 2]; 334. Available from: URL:
http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/334/7587/236#156652. Accessed 25th March 2007.
2. O'Dowd, A. Half of extra money for the NHS has gone on pay rises. BMJ 2006;332:319. Available from:
xt=money&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=10&resourcetype=HWCIT. Accessed 25th March 2007.
3. Needham, G. ‘Money for something but the kicks are fab.’ BMJ 2006 May [cited 2006 May 14];
332. Available from: URL: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/332/7549/1096-c#133707. Accessed 25th March
4. GP shortage greater than DoH predictions. Health care republic the home of primary care. 12 Jan 2007.
Available from: URL: ttp://www.healthcarerepublic.com/news/GP/626740/GP-shortage-greater-DoHpredictions/.
Accessed 25th March 2007.
*Eugenia Galinskaya , a Stage 3 Cambridge Undergraduate won 2nd Prize in a Medical Women’s
Federation Competition with her essay .. The Editorial Board is grateful to the Federation for
permission to publish it and congratulates the author on her success.