When doctors strike, the scientific research evidence finds that patients stop dying!
The most comprehensive review of the medical impact of doctors’ strikes is published in the prestigious academic journal Social Science and Medicine. A team lead by Solveig Cunningham and Salim Yusuf at Emory and Georgetown Universities in the USA and McMaster University in Canada analysed five physician strikes around the world, all between 1976 and 2003. Doctors withdrew their labour, in the different strikes analysed, from between nine days and 17 weeks. Yet all the different studies report population mortality either stays the same, or even decreases, during medical strikes. Not a single study found death rates increased during the weeks of the strikes, compared to other times.
It’s the fact that elective, or non-emergency surgery, tends to stop during a doctors’ strike, which seems to be the key factor. It looks like a surprising amount of mortality occurs following this kind of procedure, which disappears when elective surgery ceases due to doctors withdrawing their labour. However, as soon as elective surgery resumed, there was a rise in deaths. There were 90 more deaths associated with surgery for the two weeks following the strike in 1976 (ie when doctors went back to work) than there had been during the same period in 1975.
Another sobering possible conclusion is that the public, and perhaps doctors themselves, overestimate the ability of medicine to stave off or have an impact on mortality.
Doctors’ strikes and mortality: A review. Solveig Argeseanu Cunningham, Kristina Mitchell, K.M. Venkat Narayan, Salim Yusuf. Social Science & Medicine 67 (2008) 1784-1788