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Scottish BMA denounces 'quick fix' NHS budget cuts

A ‘double whammy' of cuts to NHS Scotland budgets will damage patient care, BMA Scotland has warned, after a new report laid bare the financial challenges facing Scotland's public services.

The report, published today by Audit Scotland, showed that Scotland's public sector budget for 2011/12 is £27.5bn, down  £1.7bn in real terms from 2010/11. It showed how health spending has fallen by £32m – a reduction of  0.3% from last year and warned that ‘fundamental changes' to public services are needed.

Responding to the report, Dr Brian Keighley, chair of BMA Scotland and a GP in Balfron, said it would be ‘naïve' to expect the NHS impact spending cut would not harm patient care and access to services. He warned that the Scottish Government's decision to postpone cost savings until 2011/12 meant NHS Scotland now faced a ‘double whammy' of cuts.

Dr Keighley attacked Scottish politicians for engulfing the NHS in ‘tribal politics' and warned that MSP's moves to target doctors contracts as quick fix cost savings would have ‘a persistent damaging impact on morale and patient care'.

Dr Keighley said that Scottish politicians should back, not attack, doctors and NHS workers in the current climate. He said that NHS managers and politicians needed to ‘harness the goodwill' of clinicians and help doctors minimise the impact of budget pressures on patient care. 

Dr Brian Keighley said:‘The NHS faces an unprecedented real terms reduction in its budgets for the first time since devolution and, because the Scottish Government delayed the first round of cuts last year, this year will prove to be the most challenging as the service faces a double whammy of cuts.'

‘It would be naive to expect that this will not have an impact on patient care and access to healthcare services.It is disappointing that cuts to the NHS workforce and attacks on doctors' contracts have been identified by politicians as the way to navigate through these difficult financial times. While this might deliver some savings in the short term, this approach will have a long term and persistent damaging impact on morale and patient care.

‘Workforce morale is a valuable asset in tough financial times and managers and politicians must harness the goodwill of doctors and other clinical professionals to lead the reform of services that will achieve savings with minimal impact on patient care.

The Audit Scotland report found that Scotland's public bodies are shedding staff as they scramble to make cost-savings. Auditors involved in the report attack warned of the ‘significant risk' of public bodies seeking short-term solutions rather than long-term cost saving plans.

Auditor general for Scotland Robert Black said:‘Strong leadership and governance in Scotland's public bodies are vital to deal successfully with the financial conditions since devolution. The public sector needs to reduce costs but there is also an opportunity to reform the way public services are delivered.'

‘Few people within the public sector today have experienced budget cuts of the current levels, and there is a significant risk in focusing on short-term solutions rather than long-term plans.'

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