A con by the BMA

If you listened to today's headlines, you'll hear some news that you may find alarming - a "survey" of doctors carried out by the British Medical Association to coincide with the opening of its annual conference has apparently found that budget restraints are harming patient care and front line services. However, all is not as it seems.

For a start, the premise is a bit odd. After all, we know that NHS spending is being ringfenced by the Coalition Government and will continue to rise free of cuts while other departments feel the pinch. Against that background, one would have expected NHS staff as a group to feel not overjoyed but fortunate - for they have so far being spared the drive for spending cuts that every other area of the public sector will face other than the EU and international development.

To perhaps find an answer as to why instead of feeling fortunate and relieved doctors (according to the BMA) are instead up in arms and angling for even more money, let's have a look at the survey itself.

The first thing to note is that this is emphatically a straw-poll survey, not an opinion poll. There is no weighting, and no assessment of any potential bias in the sample.

And what a sample it is - this is not a survey of "doctors" as a profession, it is a survey of the politicised officials of the BMA itself.

The survey was only sent to 361 chairs of the Local Negotiating Committees (LNCs), effectively the local shop stewards of the BMA trade union. By consulting the LNC chairs the BMA surveyed the most politicised doctors it is possible to find.

Remarkably, only 92 of those BMA officials actually responded - a dismal 25.5% response rate. Who are those 92 likely to be? In a self-selecting survey, the people who get a form through the door and then decide to fill it in and send it back tend to be either a) the most angry or b) the most bored. As a result those who replied are likely to be outliers even from the general opinion of the small group who the survey was sent to.

Thus, far from being representative of the profession as a whole, the BMA's release is barely even representative of its own local branch chairmen. Are "doctors" really up in arms about the fact that theirs is just about the only sector being spared from spending cuts? If you want to find out, don't bother reading the BMA's press releases.

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