NHS 'run ragged' by scandalous underfunding, warns BMA

The BMA has warned that scandalous underfunding of the NHS has left the service 'run ragged', as a major poll by the union found four in five doctors believe quality and safety of patient care are under threat.

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul (Photo: JH Lancy)

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul warned on Monday at the union's annual representative meeting (ARM) that the NHS faces an all-year-round crisis - with pressure on the service through summer now on a par with extreme winter pressure.

His warning came as a BMA poll of almost 8,000 doctors found that three quarters of respondents believe financial targets in the NHS override patient care. Underfunding is 'significantly affecting quality and safety in the NHS', according to 78% of doctors.

More than half of doctors fear that they will be blamed for errors caused by pressure or 'system failures' at work, and 95% of doctors say they are fearful of making mistakes.

NHS workforce

Three quarters of doctors say waiting times have worsened over the past year, and just 5% say staffing levels are adequate - with more staff and better IT systems topping the list of issues doctors said could improve their working environment.

Dr Nagpaul said: 'We know the NHS has been systematically and scandalously starved of resources for years. It lacks doctors, it lacks nurses, it lacks beds. It’s not just the channel that separates us from our European neighbours, but a vast funding gap equating to 35,000 hospital beds or 10,000 doctors.

‘We’re being run ragged. A health service of gaps and stopgaps where two out of three juniors report holes in their rota and one third of GP practices have long-term vacancies. It’s the new norm. It’s a new low.’

The BMA chair hit out at the cancellation of tens of thousands of NHS operations through winter, and 17,000 'acutely sick patients queuing in ambulances outside emergency departments in the first week of January'.

Year-round crisis

He added: ‘Do you remember when winter pressures only happened in the winter? We now have an all-year crisis. Today in Brighton we may be in the midst of summer, but in the NHS it’s still winter.

'All this is inevitably affecting patient safety, with bed occupancy in some trusts running up to 100% - well above recommended safe limits of 85%. Is it safe for patients who should be admitted in an emergency to suffer ambulance delays of several hours with some not surviving the wait as reported last winter?

'Is it safe to work in an understaffed environment of perpetual rota gaps? Is it safe to manage patients in car parks because the hospital has no space, or to treat patients on trolleys in corridors rather than the facilities of a ward? Is it safe for GPs to spend just 10 minutes with patients with four or more complex problems?'

The BMA chair welcomed plans announced last week to increase the annual NHS budget by £20.5bn in real terms by 2023, with a 3.6% increase planned from April 2019.

But he said the extra funding was still 'well short of what is needed', and warned that the health service needed the funding in full immediately.

'The prime minister’s belated and desperately needed announcement of increased NHS funding after years of denial is a positive step.

'But the investment is still well short of what’s needed and we need it now. We will continue to campaign to be at parity with our European neighbours. Meanwhile it’s crucial that this money is delivered to treat patients and attract and retain staff.'

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