Viewpoint: The high cost of the BMA blocking the drive to a seven-day NHS

There are two main reasons why health secretary Jeremy Hunt is pushing for a seven-day NHS right now, writes Paul Corrigan.

Paul Corrigan: 'This is an important moment in the reform of the NHS'
Paul Corrigan: 'This is an important moment in the reform of the NHS'

My experience of the planned politics of a new majority government is that there are few coincidences in the timing of announcements.

The latest announcement of new legislation to limit the power of trades union leaders in calling action has helped to set the seal on the health secretary's speech telling the BMA to get real about the safety needs that come from seven-day NHS working.

First the government tries to place itself on the side of rail and tube passengers against the trades union bosses who disrupt their lives with strikes.

The second places the government on the side of patients against the BMA who are prepared to defend their members' out-of-hours bonuses against the need for improved patient safety.

Why Hunt is pushing for a seven-day NHS now

This is an important moment in the reform of the NHS. After the chaos of Andrew Lansley's reforms, Jeremy Hunt has never felt comfortable in confronting the sectional interests of the BMA. It would appear that this has now changed.

There are two reasons for this timing. The first is that we are four years and 10 months away from the next election. If at any time in this parliament the government planned to move 'the BMA road block to reform', now is the time to do it.

This will lead to a public row with doctors. The BMA will think the row will harm the government, but the electoral outcome of that harm is a long way off.

Second, and much more important, is that the problem of not having a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, consultant-led hospital service has been established with the public.

The public now understands the need for change

They look at other less important services and see how they run all the time and, quite frankly, are rather surprised that most NHS hospitals do not manage that. And they are beginning to understand the cost: 6,000 lives a year.

A wise government will ensure that this loss of life is made public over and over again. And if the BMA says the profession is being rushed into these negotiations, well, the cost for going slow is 500 deaths a month.

That's 500 reasons every month for getting this done quickly.

  • Paul Corrigan is a healthcare management consultant and was health adviser to prime minister Tony Blair. This article was first published on our commissioning website Inside Commissioning.

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