In a BMA report1 published today, doctors across the UK have shared their experiences of the impact of appalling health inequalities the country is suffering. The BMA believes a decade of spending cuts and Government disregard for public health have left thousands of people with poor or deteriorating health. As a bleak winter of poverty and economic hardship threatens to plunge the country into a health crisis, medics are calling on the Government to act.
In a new report out today, The Country is Getting Sicker, the BMA has brought together testimony from doctors who report picking up the pieces of a broken social safety net, decimated public services, in-work poverty, and a longstanding failure to protect public health.
The report identifies three key threats to the health of the nation:
- The cost-of-living crisis, which means many people are having to choose between feeding themselves and their families with healthy food or heating their home.
- The cuts to public services announced in the Autumn Statement, which though delayed, still risk adding to the hundreds of thousands of excess deaths the last decade of cuts has already contributed to.
- The erosion of government policies that keep us healthy by tackling the root causes of ill health such as alcohol use, obesity, and smoking. The Government must urgently show its ongoing commitment to key policies that keep us well, including restricting junk food adverts online and on tv, and publishing an updated Tobacco Control plan to meet its ambition for England to be smokefree by 2030.
The BMA has received testimony from doctors from across the country. It has heard harrowing stories from doctors trying to support patients who are broken by the stress of not being able to afford to stay well, unsure where their next meal is coming from or how they will pay their bills.
Testimony from these doctors includes:
“During my conversation with my patient, they broke down and started to tell me about being unable to cope, having no money, and being in despair because they had paid for transport to the hospital, was leaving still in pain, and having to put out more money to get home with no answers. They reported that they weren’t sure where their next meal was coming from and suicidal ideation due to bills.” - General surgeon, Scotland
“How can we advocate lifestyle changes to patients who have high processed diet and can’t afford healthy food, haven't got time to do exercise because the demands of juggling family and work” - GP, Sheffield
Patients from these deprived areas often lack an advocate to help them navigate the nebulous health care system, which has negative effects on their healthcare outcomes and experience. This adds to a sense of futility which is felt by me and my co-worker’s day upon day as we struggle to meet a need greater than any one service can provide.” - Acute care physician, North West England
Professor Martin McKee, President of the BMA, said:
“What we have seen from doctors across the UK here is a cry of pain. Treating patients at the best of times can be a difficult, stressful, and emotionally draining experience. These are not the best of times.
“Doctors are struggling to pick up the pieces of government failures. Too many people simply don’t know if their families will have money, food or shelter from one week to the next and doctors are left feeling helpless in the face of ever-increasing levels of ill-health. How can we expect otherwise, when they’re forced to send patients back to cold homes, to meagre meals, and to the endless stress of ever-rising costs?
“The most upsetting part is how avoidable all this is. Budgets for all the things that we need for health, whether in local government, welfare, housing, and many other sectors have been eroded for more than a decade. Jeremy Hunt, in his Autumn Statement, said it was this supposed fiscal “discipline” that meant he could show more generosity to the NHS now. Not only is a sick population more expensive to treat, but it is also a major barrier to the economic growth we all agree is needed.
“Doctors will not stand by while the people they treat suffer needlessly from a broken system – today we are raising the alarm.”
Notes to editors
- BMA report: The country is getting sicker.
The BMA is a professional association and trade union 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.
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