Recent governments have been 'in denial' about the state of the health service, BMA chair Dr Mark Porter warned an hour after the prime minister announced plans for a snap general election on 8 June.
'Health is always one of the most important issues for the people of this country and with the NHS at breaking point, having been put through one of the worst winters on record, it must be a central issue in the upcoming election,' Dr Porter said.
'The NHS must not be pushed to the margins in the focus on Brexit. Staff have ensured that we still have one of the best health services in the world, but years of underinvestment while patient demand has been rising means that it is now failing too many people, too often.
'Our hospitals and GP surgeries are full and social care is on its knees, with staff working under impossible conditions. There are crippling funding and staffing shortages undermining the delivery of safe care, and serious question marks over the future of thousands of EU citizens who are a vital part of the NHS.'
Dr Porter's comments come just a week after an Exeter medical school study found that 40% of GPs planned to quit in the next five years. Meanwhile, this winter scores of hospitals reported high levels of pressure undermining their ability to maintain services.
The independent Doctors and Dentists Review Body that advises the government on NHS doctors' pay recently warned it was 'unclear' how GP services could be maintained in the face of the growing workforce crisis. GP leaders have also said that despite planned investment through NHS England's GP Forward View, general practice remains underfunded by billions of pounds.
Announcing plans to ask parliament to approve the snap general election, Ms May said the election would give the UK the 'strong and stable leadership' it needs for Brexit.
But Dr Porter warned that the general election must not ignore the health service.
'Consecutive governments have been in denial about the state of the NHS and when it comes to elections have chosen to use it as a political football. Our health and social care systems can no longer cope without urgent action. We call on politicians of all parties not to duck this crisis any longer, and instead to outline credible and sustainable plans that will safeguard the future of the fully funded and supported NHS that staff want and patients deserve.'