Responding to today’s speech by the Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock on the future of healthcare, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:
“Without doubt, the pandemic has forced health services and patient care to transform. Health and social care staff have had to be innovative and adapt how they work against unprecedented challenges to provide high-quality care to patients, and without doubt some of the improved ways of working need to stay – for the benefit of the patient as well as the NHS overall.
“The Health and Social Care Secretary is right when he says we should not need a pandemic to recognise where things can be improved and I am glad that he now recognises, as the BMA has always said, that there is a better way to provide healthcare.
“For a long time, the BMA has called for much better collaboration, and condemned the fragmentation of the NHS, and it’s refreshing to see the Health and Social Care Secretary finally acknowledge the detrimental impact the reforms of 2012 have had on patient care. He must now scrap damaging competition rules in the NHS once and for all.
“However, the rhetoric around use of the private sector raises alarm, given the hundreds of millions of pounds wasted outsourcing work to private companies during the pandemic, leading to fragmentation and of services and hampering a coordinated response.
“Meanwhile, he recognises how a lighter-touch approach from the CQC – something the BMA has long pushed for – did not cause ‘the sky to fall in’. It’s vital that he follows through on his words with a concrete plan to make sure we never return to a system beleaguered by red tape and regulation that diverts doctors’ efforts away from what is most important – treating patients.
“While there is much in this vision that chimes with what the BMA has been calling for on behalf of doctors, there are still areas that need serious consideration. So although we want all doctors to have access to up-to-date IT that allows them to offer online and tele-video appointments where appropriate, the suggestion that ‘all consultations should be teleconsultations’, with every patient interaction essentially being screened first, is too rigid and likely to create barriers for many, with a detrimental impact on their care.
“Underlining this all is the contribution of NHS staff, who have spent the last five months working tirelessly for their patients, going above and beyond, often putting themselves at risk in the process. Yes, we must ‘value our people’, but the Government must also recognise that many healthcare staff are utterly exhausted and looking at the months ahead with great anxiety. Almost a third of doctors tell us they are experiencing emotional distress or mental health issues that have become worse during the pandemic, with 44% of doctors saying they lack confidence in the NHS’s ability to manage a potential second wave1.
“These staff need support, and while today’s People Plan contains a number of positive initiatives in terms of wellbeing and flexible working, there is a lack of long-term strategy to address the longstanding workforce deficit that means we are so short of doctors compared with our neighbours.
“Crucially, the Health Secretary has overlooked the fact that we are not starting with a clean sheet; the NHS entered the Covid crisis with record waits in A&E, and for cancer care and operations. Now, alongside the devastating impact the virus has had on the tens of thousands of families who have lost loved ones, we have an even bigger backlog of millions of more non-Covid patients to contend with. Waiting lists grow daily as we look towards winter, something this strategy makes no attempts to address.
“We are eager to see how this vision will be made a reality when faced with so many challenges. We will work with the Government to ensure that doctors’ voices are heard and their views acted upon when the vision takes shape. These aims must translate into decisive action that will prepare the NHS and its workforce for what could be a new chapter in its history, a chapter where mistakes from the past are used to shape improvement for the future.”
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.