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Last week, BMA Scotland hosted an evening with Jeane Freeman, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, at our headquarters in Edinburgh. I want to thank everyone who attended, and I hope you found it as useful and interesting as I did. Equally it is important to put on record our thanks to the Cabinet Secretary – who gave up her time to listen direct to doctors and respond to our concerns.
The event was prompted by the results of our member survey last year. When we published them – and the stark picture they told of the pressures on the profession – the Cabinet Secretary was pretty much immediately in touch with the BMA to find out more of what lay behind the figures. Above and beyond that, she also indicated that she wanted to hear from doctors themselves about suggestions to make things better.
My feeling is the event absolutely fulfilled that aim. We operated the discussion under Chatham House rules, so as to prompt an open and honest debate, where people felt free and safe to discuss what really mattered to them. That limits to a degree what I can say about the content of the debate.
But I can report that the many thoughtful and detailed contributions from the audience provided us all with a great deal to take away and consider. Among the issues raised that struck me the most were the concerns around bullying in our NHS, the pressures exerted around the need to meet targets, the so-called ‘clipboard culture’ where doctors are being asked when a patient will be ready to go home before they’ve even put their hospital gown on, and the need for kindness. These were very similar to the themes that came out or survey and I’ve no doubt they will resonate with anyone working in the NHS in Scotland.
That’s just a snippet of what was discussed, but it’s a lot of delve into and, looking at the bigger picture, the links between them all are clear. Doctors are feeling under pressure to meet targets – some of which are simply unattainable in the current climate – which is not helped by the issues with bed shortages, which then leads to a focus on discharging patients almost as soon as they come in.
One particularly well-told story was of a young doctor who, at an appraisal with a senior colleague, burst into tears as a result of being on the receiving end of kindness for the first time since she started her job. This should be a stark reminder to us all, that although we are busy and under extreme pressure, a kind word could change a person’s entire outlook on their chosen career.
Of course, these are not easy messages for the Scottish Government. However, I felt the Cabinet Secretary really listened to the points that were made – indeed I saw her scribbling notes throughout the evening – and she responded to a lot of the comments openly and honestly, something which I, and I’m sure all of you who attended, appreciated very much. Of course, the BMA and the Scottish Government are not going to agree all the time – or even the majority of the time. But it is healthy that we are able to have these debates and feel that doctors’ concerns are genuinely being listened too.
As is the way with events of this nature, not everyone had the opportunity to express their opinions. However, I hope those who were there came away feeling reassured that Ms Freeman is keen to maintain an ongoing dialogue with the BMA on how to make the NHS in Scotland sustainable for the future – and a better place for us all to work. On our part, we are now pursuing options to follow up with further related events. Our aim, as always, is to influence decisions about the future of the health service and workforce to deliver improvements for both doctors and those who rely on our care. Keep in touch via these blogs and I will keep you all informed on developments. In the meantime – find out more about the BMA’s member survey here.
Lewis Morrison, BMA Scotland Chair
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