BMA attacks 'political choice' to underfund NHS as public concern grows

Three quarters of doctors say access to NHS services is worsening, according to a BMA poll published as the union meets for its annual representative meeting (ARM) in Bournemouth.

BMA chair Dr Mark Porter (Photo: BMA)
BMA chair Dr Mark Porter (Photo: BMA)

Outgoing chair Dr Mark Porter warned in his keynote speech on Monday that the service was ‘running on fumes’ and facing growing public dissatisfaction.

For the first time ever the BMA’s public opinion poll found more people dissatisfied, at 43%, than satisfied (33%) with the service, double the number for 2015.

More than 80% of respondents said they are worried about the future of the NHS, with almost two-thirds now expecting the service to get worse in future, compared to 39% two years ago.

GP vacancies

Seventy-one percent of doctors told the BMA that access to services had worsened, while half of GPs reported vacancies in their practices.

Dr Porter, who will be replaced as chair of council later this week by current GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, told the conference: ‘We have a government trying to keep the health service running on nothing but fumes. A health service at breaking point. Run by ministers who wilfully ignore the pleas of the profession and the impact on patients.’

He added: ‘It doesn’t have to be this way. It is the result of an explicit political choice. We don’t have to spend less of our GDP than the other leading European economies on health. Our government has chosen to do this. If we spent the average – the average, not the most – then patients would see £15bn extra investment in the English NHS within five years. We’re not asking for the world. We’re asking for the average. For a fair chance to create the health service our patients need and deserve.

Dr Porter hit out at all the political parties for proposing plans which would see health spending fall as a share of GDP. ‘They share the failure of vision,’ he said.

NHS crisis

The BMA chair also hit out at prime minister Theresa May for attempting to scapegoat GPs for the winter crisis earlier this year.

‘When the clichés run dry, the tactics get ugly,' he said. ‘The government blames the staff. In January, in the midst of what the British Red Cross called a ‘humanitarian crisis,’ with both GPs and hospitals working flat out, the prime minister chose to set one against the other.

‘Seriously? The prime minister sees a health service at breaking point and blames GPs? When almost a third of practices can’t fill GP vacancies, when they’re dealing with tens of millions more appointments than they did a decade ago, with a smaller share of NHS funding.

‘The prime minister blames doctors, when her own government is so conspicuously failing to keep its side of the bargain and recruit the much-trumpeted 5,000 new GPs by 2020. Three years ago, it was a pledge. Then it became an ambition. Now it seems more like a mirage. And a language of evasion and failure.’

The BMA chair also warned the government to listen to GPs about the pressures facing the profession. The GPC is set to ballot the profession over plans for a collective closure of practice lists to manage workload and highlight pressure on primary care.

A GPonline poll earlier this month found that more than half of GPs were prepared to take part in a collective list closure.

Dr Porter added: 'GPs are considering whether to close patient lists because of the overwhelming pressures they face. They don’t need the government to make unfunded promises or threats about extending access. They do need the government to listen to why they have been pushed into considering such a step.'

A DH spokesman said the BMA warning over falling patient satisfaction did 'a disservice to the achievements of NHS staff'.

He pointed to 'the highest cancer survival rates ever, mental healthcare expanding at the fastest rate in Western Europe, and 17m people getting evening and weekend GP appointments, which is why genuinely independent research shows public satisfaction is now the highest for all but three of the last 20 years'.

Responding to BMA warnings that the promise of 5,000 extra GPs is now little more than a mirage, he added: 'We recruited the highest number of GP trainees ever in 2016 - but crucially, we are giving GPs the financial backing to support improvements in patient care, with a £2.4bn increase in funding, so we expect them to deliver for the public.'

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