Junior doctor strikes show 'profound failure' of government on NHS, says BMA chair

Junior doctor strikes and the surge in doctors planning to quit the NHS reflect the government's 'profound, demoralising failure' to run the NHS properly, Dr Mark Porter told an emergency BMA conference on Tuesday.

Dr Mark Porter: The government has allowed ‘piecemeal privatisation of services to destabilise the NHS’
Dr Mark Porter: The government has allowed ‘piecemeal privatisation of services to destabilise the NHS’

Speaking at a special representative meeting in London - the first held by the BMA for over five years - the BMA chairman was scathing in his criticism of the government's handling of the health service and its treatment of doctors.

He said the emergency meeting was called to ‘define the crisis we face, address our corrosive pressures and to try to find and define new solutions’.

Dr Porter accused the government of allowing ‘piecemeal privatisation of services to destabilise the NHS’. He said the current crisis, the industrial action launched by junior doctors and the ‘massive wave of doctors’ wanting to leave the profession are all symptoms of the ‘profound, demoralising failure in the government’s running of the health service’.

NHS funding

Chancellor George Osborne's claims that the country has a ‘fully-funded NHS’ are ‘fantasy’, the BMA chairman said.

‘[The chancellor] has come up with less than a third of the extra £30bn in England alone that he admits it needs.

‘Stop and reflect on that for a moment. A government claiming to increase resources while the mathematically competent can see that it’s all cuts and efficiencies.

‘He says we just need to be more efficient. So much more efficient that £22bn worth of work that we do apparently won’t exist, or won’t cost anything, in four years’ time.’

The shortfall has put a squeeze on services – including general practice, which has been asked to do ‘more and more with less and less of healthcare resources’, said Dr Porter.

Junior doctor strikes

He added: ‘Our country chooses to spend a smaller proportion of our national wealth on healthcare than in Greece and Portugal, and less than the EU average. I think we should agree that our patients deserve better than that.’

He also said the government has ‘lost the hearts, minds and bodies’ of a generation of junior doctors with its plans to ‘bully, impose and overrule’ after failing to reach an agreement on the junior doctor contract.

‘We have a government that promises, and expects, the impossible. That ignores the inconvenient. That favours coercion over reason.’

He added: ‘The government must drop its cynical and corrosive tactic of trying to undermine trust in doctors. Making laughable accusations that doctors don’t work weekends, or that GPs don’t do out-of-hours, doesn’t soften us up in negotiations. And it doesn’t fool the public either. It just squanders the morale of decent people.

‘The government has forgotten what negotiation even means. Have you seen what it’s trying on with the junior doctors?

‘It’s not just a contract imposed by a government that refuses to talk, but it’s a contract that will get rid of the need to ever talk again.

‘It says – and they expect junior doctors to be happy with this – it says, "we reserve the right… in our absolute discretion to review, revise, amend or replace any term or condition of this contract".

‘Just sign here, they’re saying, and you won’t need to worry about negotiating changes to your contract ever again. When we decide what’s best for us, we’ll change it, and we’ll let you know.’

‘Now, I think this clause has all the legal foundation of a witch trial. But doesn’t it just tell you everything you need to know about the cold contempt this government has towards our profession and towards the health service?’

Tens of thousands of junior doctors took part in strikes last week, with BMA leaders hailing the 'overwhelming' turnout.

A DH spokesman said: 'What isn’t being said at this conference is that the BMA agreed with 90% of the junior doctors contract, and that initial figures show a similar number of training places have now been filled this year compared to last.

'Had the BMA agreed to talk about Saturday pay as they promised, we’d have an agreement by now to tackle the clear independent evidence that standards of care are not uniform across the week. Our reforms are underpinned by £10bn extra to deliver the NHS’ own plan for the future, including almost £4bn upfront this year.'

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