Taking the pulse of the medical profession

The Royal College of General Practitioners is fully entitled to call for the Health and Social Care Bill to be withdrawn – almost everybody else has – but I was surprised to see that it justified the decision by reference to a survey to which just 3,120 of the college’s 44,000 members responded.

All’s fair in love and war, but I don’t think many GPs would be impressed by clinical evidence gathered in this way. Of those who did respond, The Independent reports [6], 1,760 agreed that the college should proceed with calling for the withdrawal of the bill even if other royal collages did not support it; 41 said no, 96 expressed no opinion, and 1,223 skipped the question.

This is not a survey, in any meaningful sense of the word. Those who bother to respond are the strongly motivated who oppose the bill and want it withdrawn. Of course, the RCGP has other ways of gauging opinion and in calling for the bill to be withdrawn may not be misrepresenting the majority opinion of its members. But the survey doesn’t tell us what that is, one way or  the other. The same is true of an earlier survey carried out by BMJ. These are “voodoo polls” to use the term coined by Anthony Wells of YouGov on his UK Polling Report [7] blog.

There has been, as he points out, a proper poll [8] on what employees of the NHS think of the reforms, carried out by YouGov for 38 Degrees. This shows that 65 per cent of respondents believe the bill should be withdrawn, and 9 per cent passed, with 19 per cent don’t knows and 7 per cent neither. Interestingly, the opposition is stronger, rather than weaker, among clinical staff than non-clinical, and even commands a majority among Conservative voters, 40 per cent of whom say the bill should be withdrawn against 30 per cent saying it should be passed.

So both the RCGP and the BMJ are on safe ground in claiming there is a majority in the medical profession that wants the bill withdrawn. But they won’t be on quite such strong ground the next time they object to an online self-selected survey by, say, the Daily Mail, showing that patients are enraged by how difficult it is to get an appointment with their GP.  Then, I suspect, they will refer us to a proper survey that shows how delighted patients are with GP access. 

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