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Ditch empty promises and ‘get real’ over crisis facing NHS, government told

Time to start facing up to scale of problems and be honest with patients and staff, says UK doctors’ leader

Caroline White

Monday, 22 June 2015

The government needs to “get real” over the crisis facing the NHS, ditch the empty promises, and start being honest with patients, their families, and staff, the UK doctors’ leader has urged.

Addressing delegates at the BMA’s annual representative meeting in Liverpool, Dr Mark Porter said the new government had to face up to the scale of the problems facing the NHS.

“As our No More Games campaign made clear, politicians from every party have been guilty of scoring cheap political points from the NHS, of dragging committed staff into political rows, and making promises they know they cannot keep,” he said, alluding to “promises of a health service open all hours, staffed by a phantom army of new recruits.”

He went on: “Last Friday, we were told once again that GP surgeries will open seven days a week, twelve hours a day. They talk about GPs doing even more, when thousands already work in out-of-hours services, propping up the NHS. The Government is trumpeting its ‘new deal for GPs’. Who are they kidding?”

How could there possibly be 5,000 more GPs by 2020, as the government has promised, when it takes 10 years to train a GP and hundreds of existing GP training posts were unfilled, he asked?

Politicians were fond of saying how much they loved the NHS. “Well, thanks for that, but what patients and their families need, what those of us working in the NHS need, is honesty, respect and a sense of reality. We want to see clear plans, with clear funding for delivering improvements, free of dogma and ideology,” he said.

The BMA was prepared to work with any government that truly wanted to protect and improve the NHS, he said, but the government had to get real, “with urgency, with compassion and by offering a hand, not an axe,” he suggested.

With the £30 billion funding black hole, the rising recruitment and retention crisis, a growing gulf was emerging between what patients had been promised and reality on the ground, he said.

“We have a government run from cloud nine rather than number 10,” he said. “The crisis is real, but their solutions show little grasp of reality. A debilitating NHS deficit, to be met with a £22 billion wish and a promise. A pledge to expand services, with barely the detail to fill a post-it note. And a crude, unrealistic attempt to marginalise patients safety in our contracts,” he emphasised.

The government owed it to every single patient to get real about the scale of the problems facing the NHS, he said.

His comments come as a new BMA survey reveals the extent to which doctors are being affected by the growing pressures on the NHS.

The latest BMA tracker survey of doctors shows that across the UK almost a third of respondents (30%) consider themselves to be suffering from, or have previously suffered from, burnout, while four out of 10 (41%) believe they are at high risk of burnout in the near future.

The results echo those of an analysis by researchers in Salzburg of 7,218 responses to a BMA questionnaire, which found a staggering eight in 10 (80%) of respondents had a high to very high burnout score. The questionnaire also showed that half of those who completed it between November 2010 and January 2014 worked as GPs.

Dr Porter said that the government’s focus on budget cuts over quality is harming both patients and having an impact on doctors’ wellbeing.

“We’ve had Mid Staffs, we’ve had Francis, and cost is still being put before quality. This is, quite simply, wrong,” he said, adding that the “most insidious of cuts are imposed upon staff who are still suffering from a disastrous restructuring of the health service, who face an unprecedented workload, and have no clarity about the future. It is harming some of the doctors here today. It is harming our friends, our colleagues and our patients.”

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