30 May 2012

Doctors to go on strike. I hope it is a long one!

Doctors strike -- and death rates fall

Doctors don't often go on strike, but it has happened sufficiently often for a disturbing trend to be noticed. During the rare times that they have gone on strike -- in several countries -- the death rate has always gone down.

In 2000, Israeli doctors employed in public hospitals pursued a course of industrial action. This included the cancellation of outpatient clinics and the postponement of all routine surgery. And this limited strike action had some unusual consequences. Throughout Israel, while the doctors were on strike, death rates fell. The coastal city of Netanya has only one hospital whose staff members had a 'no strike' clause in their contracts. As a result, doctors in Netanya continued to work normally -- and death rates remained stubbornly the same, failing to reflect the reduction that was shown in almost all of the rest of the country.[1]

And it wasn't the first time; doctors in Israel went on strike in 1973, and reduced their total daily patient contacts from 65,000 to just 7,000. The strike lasted a month and during that time the death rate, according to the Jerusalem Burial Society, dropped by half.

It doesn't just happen in Israel. The 1960s saw physicians in Canada go on strike and the mortality rate dropped. In 1976, in Bogota, Colombia, doctors refused to treat all but emergency cases for a period of 52 days, and in that time the death rate fell by 35%.[2]

In the same year the death rate dropped 18% during a 'slow-down' by doctors in Los Angeles. After the strike, deaths rates jumped to 3% above normal for more than five weeks as the Los Angeles doctors caught up on their paperwork.[3]

And it is a standing joke among cardiologists that death rates fall during their conferences because fewer of them are attempting to cure moribund patients by doing dangerous surgery.

So, it's a fair assumption that the longer doctors strike, the safer we are likely to be.

1.    Siegel-Itzkovich J. Doctors' strike in Israel may be good for health. BMJ 2000; 320:1561.
2.    Horne, Ross. Health & Survival In The 21st Century. HarperCollins Publishers Pty Limited, Australia, 1997. Chapter 11.
3.    Science News, 28 Oct 1978; 114: 293.

See Chapter one of Trick & Treat: How 'healthy eating' is making us ill