Responding to the Care Quality Commission’s annual State of Care report1, Dr Helen Fidler, BMA consultants committee deputy chair, said:
“Doctors and all NHS staff have spent the past six months going above and beyond in the most difficult circumstances, working in unfamiliar settings, often putting themselves at heightened risk, and this report rightfully recognises how staff rapidly adapted to meet the challenges of a completely reconfigured health service.
“However, it also notes where we were before the pandemic, with improvement stalling and some patients – including in emergency care, maternity and mental health - not getting the care they need despite doctors so desperately wanting to provide it.
“This is not down to individual clinicians, but a host of problems across the system that the BMA has been raising for years; increased demand, significant underfunding, disjointed services and an ongoing recruitment and retention crisis among others.
“Covid-19 has brought these issues to the fore, and while the response of doctors and their colleagues has been incredible, we have tragically seen those already suffering poorer health outcomes – including people from BAME backgrounds - hit even harder by the impact of the pandemic. We cannot afford to let them down further.
“It’s positive to see this report focus on the importance of collaboration and trusting local leaders to work together to shape care around what patients need in their area, and the need for a national strategy to address historic staffing shortages across the health and care sector. For social care in particular, we need a properly resourced system more closely tied with the NHS, and a better offer for staff so that our most vulnerable in society are supported.
“Amid a second wave of Covid-19 and faced with a huge backlog of care that was postponed due to the first, doctors are exhausted and looking to the future with great trepidation. Beyond whatever challenges the next few months are likely to bring, we cannot allow the NHS to slip back into what was ‘normal’ before.”
Dr Richard Vautrey, BMA GP committee chair, said:
“GP practices across the country continue to provide safe, high quality care to their patients, as shown by the CQC’s own figures with the vast majority delivering good or outstanding care. Of course there will always be variations, and there must be a supportive, not punitive, approach from regulators to help struggling practices improve, particularly in the midst of this unprecedented pandemic.
“Practices overcame huge challenges in recent months. As this report notes they overhauled services ‘almost overnight’ to ensure patients could continue accessing their GP safely, whether that was via telephone, online or face-to-face where that was safe and appropriate.
“Crucially, the increase in remote access and triage during the first wave of the pandemic was there to keep patients and staff safe – and it is what the Government instructed practices to do. Of course, remote consultations are not suitable for everyone and will never be a complete replacement for in-person care. Practices have been working incredibly hard, remaining open for patients throughout this time, to ensure everyone has access to the right professional, and the latest data has shown a significant rise in face-to-face appointments in recent weeks.
“The rapid changes of recent months have not always been easy, with all parts of the health and social care system forced to rethink how they provide care and work together. Previous frustrations with this disjointed system came home to roost, exposing problems that staff have been raising for years. Limited investment, capacity and workforce across the NHS and in social care had repercussions at every level – with GPs sharing in the frustration of patients unable to get a referral as Covid care had to be prioritised.
“As echoed in this report, the pandemic has shone a bright light on the challenges facing the NHS and social care, including the long-standing issues facing general practice, and there is much to learn from our response that we must take forward when we come out the other side.”
Notes to editors
The BMA is a trade union and professional association representing and negotiating on behalf of all doctors in the UK. A leading voice advocating for outstanding health care and a healthy population. An association providing members with excellent individual services and support throughout their lives.
- Full report here.