Tough times ahead for the NHS, warns BMA Chairman

Published on Monday, 27 June 2011 12:35
Posted by Scott Buckler

BMA Chairman of Council, Dr Hamish Meldrum, today (27th June) warned of tough times ahead as he set out the key challenges for the NHS in his opening speech to the BMA’s annual conference

These are very difficult times”, said Dr Meldrum, “and the only way the NHS can come through, is for there to be a real and shared commitment between all of us who have a stake in its future- a commitment to build trust1 – trust between and amongst governments, staff, employers, patients and the public.”

Planned reforms of the NHS in England, the continued pressure on NHS finances across the UK, and threats to the NHS pension scheme are major issues that the profession will face in the months ahead.

“The government has made some positive moves on NHS reform with the listening exercise – but that’s not enough, we need to build on that, not throw it away with short-term cost-cutting of frontline care, poorly planned major service changes or a phoney war about the unsustainability of an NHS pension scheme that is £10 billion in surplus.”

On the Health and Social Care Bill, Dr Meldrum acknowledges that although this is a significantly different bill from the one that was originally proposed and is now on a better track, “there is still a lot to play for, still much detail to be devilled out, still much else we want to change”.

The BMA will continue its battle against the divisive features of the healthcare market in England, said Dr Meldrum. “Doctors are not afraid of competition – in fact, they thrive on it. They want to know that they are working as well, if not better than their colleagues and they need fair, effective and evidence-based data on health outcomes to provide them with that information.

“But that is quite different from the unfettered, free market of the industrial world, because the NHS must never be like that – you only have to look across the Atlantic to see why, and why we will continue to resist all attempts to make it like that.”

Speaking about the NHS funding situation, Dr Meldrum said the NHS is in the grip of its greatest financial challenge: “The challenge of ever-increasing demand, finite resources and the most difficult financial situation the NHS – in all four nations – the biggest it has ever faced in its 63 years.

There is a huge difference between adapt and change and slash and burn, between carefully planned reorganisations and knee-jerk closures and redundancies, between partnership working amongst health professionals, managers and patients and imposed, top-down, politically motivated diktat.”

Doctors’ feelings on changes to the NHS pension scheme are running high. The government’s intention to overhaul public sector pensions fails to reflect the recent changes that the NHS pension scheme has only recently undergone. Dr Meldrum said:

“We recognise the need to plan for the long term, and ensure the NHS pension scheme is secure and stable, now and in the future. We’re not asking for special treatment – but we are asking for fairness based on the facts.”

Dr Meldrum points out that in 2008, doctors’ contributions increased from an average 6% of salary to an average 8.5%, and the retirement age was also increased to 65. The NHS scheme is also in surplus. The BMA is seeking talks with the government to negotiate a way forward but Dr Meldrum issued them with this warning: “Whilst we will be reasonable, whilst we will not rush to precipitate action, whilst we will not put patients’ lives at risk, do not, in any way, or for one single moment, mistake this responsible attitude as a reason to underestimate our strength of feeling, our resolve and our determination to seek fairness for those we represent.”#


Source: BMA

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