Intended for healthcare professionals

Views & Reviews Acute Perspective

David Oliver: I’ve nothing against golf

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 30 October 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5796

As a kid in Manchester I’d hack my way around municipal short courses in public parks with rented clubs. And I enjoy watching the Open and the Masters on TV. But that’s the closest I’ve got to golf club membership.

Non-medical media watchers in the United Kingdom might have me pegged as “below par” here. Surely all doctors have a membership card in our wallet and kit in the car, ready to tee off at a moment’s notice with a group of well heeled colleagues? And what better time, surely, than when at the public’s expense—perhaps when we’re on call or meant to be in clinic on a Friday afternoon? Shameful.

A recent Times feature on emergency readmissions to hospital had Patient Concern’s Roger Goss opining that these were due to doctors working “on the golf course with their mobile phones.”1 Cristina Odone said in the Telegraph, “Doctors should get off the golf course and onto the wards,”2 and the vitriolic online responses evinced equally uninformed resentment.

These examples symbolise the myths and clichés in the narrative surrounding the current stand-off between the Department of Health and the BMA over contract changes and seven day working. Golf club membership in England is 83% male and only 3% non-white.3 It’s seen as shorthand for wealth and exclusivity, conservative with a small and a large C. This is exemplified by the BBC’s “voice of golf,” Peter Alliss, and his reactionary on-air gaffes.4 Also, it’s often said that doctors are “naturally conservative.”

Yet the General Medical Council census showed that half of UK doctors are women and that only half are white.5 And openly anti-Conservative campaigns against the growing marketisation of the NHS, including those from the BMA itself, indicate that many doctors are hardly of the political right.6

When I’m in the hospital on a weekend I work pretty much flat out for 12 hours. There’d be some slow play if I tried to see 30-40 new acute patients from a golf course. It’s the same for most doctors, junior or senior, in many acute specialties. But this didn’t stop the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, saying that we had a “nine to five weekday culture” and had “lost a sense of vocation.”7

I’ve recently asked more than 100 doctor colleagues whether they play golf, and fewer than 1 in 20 said yes. Popular debates about doctors’ terms and conditions should be based on the realities of the modern medical workforce, our values, and our work patterns—and not on fantasy.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h5796


  • Competing interests: I have read and understood the BMJ policy on declaration of interests and have no relevant interests to declare.

  • Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

  • Follow David on Twitter, @mancunianmedic


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