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Chair's focus

Portrait of Chaand Nagpaul

The NHS has reached a point of year-round crisis. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Anyone reading the newspapers or watching the news during the recent party-political conference season would be forgiven for thinking the one and only topic up for debate was the issue of a no-deal Brexit. This is, of course, the most pressing priority facing the country as we near 31 October, and the BMA has been vigorous in warning of the impact of a no-deal on the NHS. 

However, with the likelihood of a general election in the coming months, it is vital that any new government has clear policies that address the disastrous underfunding of the NHS, the ongoing workforce crisis and the culture of fear and blame impacting on doctors and other NHS staff.

Nothing demonstrates this crisis more than today’s NHS performance figures showing the health service is on a collision course for the worst-ever winter. With the NHS having just experienced its worst-ever summer, we have now reached a point of year-round crisis. This cannot be allowed to continue.

Therefore I, alongside Richard Vautrey, chair of the  GP committee and Rob Harwood, chair of our consultant’s committee, represented the BMA at both the Conservative and Labour party conferences to put forward the BMA’s priorities for the next government with our recently published Caring, Supportive, Collaborative manifesto

At both conferences we outlined these priorities in detail at joint roundtables with the RCP, where I was pleased to co-host productive debates alongside RCP president Bob Goddard at the Labour Party conference and vice-president Cheng-Hock Toh at the Conservative Party conference. 

Two prominent themes from the BMA’s Caring, Supportive, Collaborative project came to the fore during the group's discussion: the impact of unsafe staffing levels and of poor IT infrastructure on the system's capacity to deliver the best possible care.

During the Labour conference Richard Vautrey, Rob Harwood and I met with a number of MPs including shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth; shadow health minister Julie Cooper; Lord McKenzie and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Peter Dowd. 

At the Conservative Party conference, we held a series of high-level meetings and discussions including with secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock, GMC chief executive Charlie Massey, NHS Providers chief executive Chris Hopson, Patients Association chief Executive Rachel Power, RCN president Anne-Marie Rafferty, RCS president Professor Derek Alderson and RCPCH president Professor Russell Viner.

However, what was disappointing was the lack of any real substance. The Government’s announcement of a proposed multi-billion-pound Health Infrastructure Plan - including a pledge to build 40 new hospitals for England - sounded, on the face of it, a step in the right direction. However, this political spin needs to be treated with caution since funding has only been earmarked for six NHS trusts, each of which are in desperate need of rebuilding projects, and submitted related plans for approval for some time ago. 

Rather than political spin we need political substance from our politicians. I fear I may be hoping for too much. In the coming weeks and months, the public may very well go to the polls and the BMA will actively campaign for all politicians and their parties to now grasp the nettle and put in place plans and policies that will make a real difference to the health service and put the NHS on a long-term sustainable footing for the benefit of doctors and their patients.