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"NHS on the edge of failure"

The NHS will fail unless doctors, other health care staff, patients and their families are listened to, the BMA’s Chair of Council warns today (24/6/13), as he addresses an audience of over 500 doctors on the opening day of the BMA’s annual conference in Edinburgh.

In his first speech as Chair of the BMA’s UK Council, Dr Mark Porter warns government that medicine is becoming a profession “on the edge” as doctors try desperately to deal with the “sheer, unparalleled scale of demand”.

He says: “As doctors we have one of the most privileged jobs in the world - helping patients and improving the health of the nation. It’s what we do and it is often wonderful, inspiring and life affirming. But it’s easy to forget that as the NHS struggles to cope with the double whammy of cuts and structural change. I feel as if we’re becoming a profession on the edge. And a medical profession on the edge, means a National Health Service on the edge.

“Doctors are desperately trying to just deal with the sheer, unparalleled scale of demand on existing services. And we experience overwhelming frustration that we cannot achieve the changes and improvements that we can see are so necessary to deal with this pressure.

“We need to make sure the voice of the profession is heard, if it isn’t the NHS will fail.”

Nowhere in that message more important than in improving the safety and quality of care in the aftermath of the report of the Francis Inquiry, Dr Porter says. In a tribute to Julie Bailey, who fought to get her voice, and those of others, heard when she tried to expose failings at Stafford Hospital, he says:

“I salute Julie Bailey, a woman of singular courage, who brought a measure of belated justice for those who had suffered at Stafford Hospital. She got herself heard, she stood up to obstruction and abuse.

“We (doctors) have a responsibility to bring in a culture of quality and safety across the whole of the health service and nothing should get in the way of that.

“We will work with government, with medical managers, with nurses and physiotherapists and with anyone else we can, to guarantee the protection of the patients in our care. But doctors must feel comfortable and safe when raising concerns - at present we do not. Many doctors express fear about the consequences, and this inhibits us from doing what we know to be right.”

In the 12 weeks since the Health and Social Care Act in England came fully into force, Dr Porter says that although we are yet to see its full impact, the government’s response so far to the problems facing the NHS has been “inadequate and divisive”, and cost improvement programmes are “cutting resources to and beyond the bone”.

He says: “While building a Byzantine system that no-one wanted, the government’s response to the real problems in the health service has been inadequate and divisive.

“We are all painfully aware of the funding restraints on the NHS. It may have escaped the kind of swingeing real-terms cuts that other departments will suffer when the comprehensive spending review is published on Wednesday. But the claim that health spending is protected rings hollow when we face rising demand, new treatments to pay for, and virtually every NHS organisation is suffering year-on-year cuts.

“The financial pressures are leading to far too many botched, quick fixes, including some drastic cuts in staffing which leave remaining staff spread far too thinly. How can we expect this to be safe for our patients?”

Postscript:
The British Medical Association have today passed an unprecedented vote of no confidence in the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

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