When plumbers go on strike, faucets may leak and toilets may be clogging up. When bus drivers are on strike, office workers might have to walk to their workplace or submit themselves to huge traffic jams. No big deal, you might say.
Doctors going on strike, however, should be cause for serious concern: an obvious attempt to fight a labour dispute on their patients’ back; an attempt to gain more money, leisure time or other amenities by an already privileged occupational group.
So should we be afraid that medical strikes will lead to longer-lasting disease and more deaths that could well be avoided?
Surprisingly, the opposite seems to be true: there are comprehensive and serious statistics proving that when doctors go on strike, the number of patients’ deaths does usually not increase; it often even decreases.
An editorial in the British Medical Journal by a Harvard Medical School study group provided the following findings:
– During a five-week strike in Los Angeles County in 1976, with up to 50 percent of doctors participating, the mortality rate in the region went down, not up.
– In 1983, 73 percent of doctors in Jerusalem went on strike for four months and refused to serve in their respective clinics. Mortality remained unaffected, though.
– In Spain, doctors went on strike for nine days in 1999, this did not change the mortality rates.
– Another three-month medical strike in Jerusalem in 2000 led to a reduced the number of funerals compared to the same period of the year before.
– In 2003, doctors in Croatia went on strike for four weeks, with no impact on mortality.
In our own archives we found even more data on this phenomenon:
– Medical strike in Brazil in 1978: 14,000 fewer deaths than before
– Medical strike in Belgium in 1979: 6,000 fewer deaths
– Medical strike in Italy in 1979: 30,000 fewer deaths
– Medical strike in 1986 during 14 days in an Italian hospital: no deaths, otherwise 43 per day on average
– Physicians’ strike in Israel in 2000: 40% fewer deaths
From these numbers one could assume that there is ‘ commercially motivated, dangerous over-treatment of patients taking medically unreasonable measures’, as the German Network Medizin 2000 puts it: ‘For a long time now there has been a rather taboo suspicion – at least in the industrialized countries; that far too many medical services are provided, which are accompanied by numerous risks, some of which are life-threatening.
If the examinations and therapies occasionally carried out for purely commercial reasons are not provided during a doctors’ strike, this inevitably reduces the number of complications that lead to the death of the patients, which from a medical point of view might be unnecessary medical services. In Germany, for example, twice as many cardiac catheterizations are carried out as in Austria or Switzerland. And 0.7% of these 400,000 patients die as a result of the examination.’