Health Secretary says ‘nothing’ about major challenges facing the NHS, says BMA

by BMA media

BMA Press release

Location: England
Published: Tuesday 3 October 2023
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Responding to the Health Minister, Steve Barclay’s speech in the morning session of the annual Conservative Party conference BMA council chair, Professor Phil Banfield, said:

“Steve Barclay’s speech reflected a Government with nothing to say about the major challenges facing the NHS, and nothing new to offer to those who rely on our health service or who work in it. How have we got to a stage where the leader of our health service gives an address at his own Party’s conference, and completely ignores the 7.6m patients currently waiting for treatment? He claimed to be on the side of patients but failed to even acknowledge those waiting in pain and distress. While doctors are supportive of patient choice and the enhanced and safe use of technology, we are acutely aware that right now our patients desperately want to be seen in good time and close to home. Mr Barclay claims to be focussed on outcomes all while refusing to speak with those who deliver care.

"Instead of using his address to highlight plans to ensure our NHS remains fit for purpose he spent a significant amount of time making false claims that the BMA poses a threat to the post-pandemic recovery of the NHS, when in fact it’s the BMA that has been long pleading with the Health Secretary to undo its more than a decade long mishandling of the health service. Steve Barclay has to come and speak to doctors; we know our patients and the system that we work in so we are best placed to help the Government develop policy that will actually have an impact on patients and NHS outcomes. 
“On Mr Barclay's comments about patient access, currently the Association is not taking legal action – a fact Mr Barclay should have been aware of when he made his comments today - but has previously considered doing so because ultimately access to records must not come at the expense of unmanageable risks to patient safety and workload.
“It also did not go unnoticed that Mr Barclay took the time to name individual universities which will have additional medical school places next September, yet failed to mention the actual number of additional spaces - 205, which is a mere drop in the ocean against 10,800 doctor vacancies. 
“Mr Barclay’s announcement on plans to change the NHS constitution isn’t ‘common sense’ as he claims, it’s a distraction from serious NHS problems and has the potential to incite discrimination and harassment of transgender and non-binary patients, limiting them from accessing vital NHS services. All patients deserve dignity and access to healthcare, which includes having their identity respected. Doctors providing care have been and will continue to make decisions with our patients regarding what care best meets their individual needs. As healthcare professionals, we pride ourselves on providing patient-centred care rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. Making informed, respectful decisions with our patients is the best way to respect both staff and patients' dignity, autonomy and human rights.  
“It's beyond belief that on day two of the biggest industrial action the NHS has ever seen, the Health Secretary has chosen to make a call that would require Trusts to follow guidance which is in breach of the Equality Act – this will amount to nothing except more hurt and harm to trans patients. Hospital Trusts should not follow unlawful guidance, and this is another, frustrating, example of the Government’s refusal to listen to and value the views and opinions of those who work within the NHS. Common sense would address the core issues that are impacting NHS staff and that’s why we are striking today to protect patients. It’s been more than 100 days since the Government last met with our NHS doctors and it shows.”

Notes to editors

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.