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BMA chair says profession is ‘on the edge’

Doctors are struggling with rising demand and the profession is ‘on the edge’, BMA chair Dr Mark Porter has said in his opening speech at the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting in Edinburgh today.

The Government has made the NHS unsafe for patients through its spending cuts, Dr Porter told delegates, and he warned ministers to resist temptation to resort to further ‘botched quick fixes’ as part of its comprehensive spending review, which will take place on Wednesday. He said this was especially important in light of the Francis report into the failings that led to the Mid Stafforshire hospital scandal.

The BMA chair also criticised the Government’s behaviour over the contract imposition , likening it to a ‘hit and run’ on general practice and said the Government has brought additional ‘box-ticking’ approach it has brought. He also hit out at health secretary Jeremy Hunt for attempting to blame the GP contract for poor out-of-hours provision when in fact it was a tendency to go for the cheapest provider which caused problems.

Dr Porter told the delegates at the BMA’s policy-making body: ‘As doctors we have one of the most privileged jobs in the world - helping patients and improving the health of the nation. It’s what we do and it is often wonderful, inspiring and life affirming. But it’s easy to forget that as the NHS struggles to cope with the double whammy of cuts and structural change. I feel as if we’re becoming a profession on the edge. And a medical profession on the edge, means a National Health Service on the edge.’

‘Doctors are desperately trying to just deal with the sheer, unparalleled scale of demand on existing services. And we experience overwhelming frustration that we cannot achieve the changes and improvements that we can see are so necessary to deal with this pressure.’

‘We need to make sure the voice of the profession is heard, if it isn’t the NHS will fail.’

Dr Porter said NHS staff are already spread too thinly, which is unsafe for patients, and that doctors sometimes fear speaking out over concerns.

He said: ‘We are all painfully aware of the funding restraints on the NHS. It may have escaped the kind of swingeing real-terms cuts that other departments will suffer when the comprehensive spending review is published on Wednesday. But the claim that health spending is protected rings hollow when we face rising demand, new treatments to pay for, and virtually every NHS organisation is suffering year-on-year cuts.’

‘The financial pressures are leading to far too many botched, quick fixes, including some drastic cuts in staffing which leave remaining staff spread far too thinly. How can we expect this to be safe for our patients?’

‘But doctors must feel comfortable and safe when raising concerns - at present we do not. Many doctors express fear about the consequences, and this inhibits us from doing what we know to be right.’

On the current row over the provision of out-of-hours services, Dr Porter said: ‘Sometimes you get what you pay for. It is commonplace that contracts for GP out-of-hours provision are awarded to the cheapest bidder and this has continued with 111.’

‘The shameful recent attempt by the health secretary to blame GPs and their contract has backfired… but perhaps we should thank him for uniting the profession against these false claims.’