Doctors are ‘fighting back’ to improve patient care, battle against years of pay erosion and to stem the tide of colleagues leaving the country.
BMA council chair Phil Banfield (pictured above) told the annual representative meeting in Liverpool ‘we see hospitals falling apart and ambulances stacked outside emergency departments’, and that catastrophe had arrived after years of warnings from doctors.
He said the BMA would ‘do what it takes for our profession and for our patients’.
Professor Banfield praised the ‘vigour and spirit’ of junior doctors in England for taking industrial action, commending the support their colleagues had shown for them.
He said: ‘Listening to their stories, as I have, it soon becomes clear how many junior doctors are struggling every day with student debt, the costs of being shoved around the country in a training lottery. The price of exams rising as the bills stack up – housing and energy costs going through the roof.’
Ready for talks
The BMA would meet the Government without preconditions to resolve the issues, said Prof Banfield, who had written to prime minister Rishi Sunak on the day of his speech to urge him to join ACAS-facilitated talks.
Prof Banfield also highlighted the other, overwhelming, ballot mandates granted to juniors in Scotland and consultants in England.
He said GPs in England were starting preparations for an indicative ballot if the Government failed to negotiate a new contract that was fit for purpose, adding that ‘GPs have had enough of being scapegoated for a conscious policy of chronic underinvestment’.
Doctors’ struggles for pay restoration and better working conditions were for future generations as well as the current one, he told the ARM.
‘To lose these battles is to accept and assent to the exodus of doctors from this country. It is to allow the managed decline of our once-great health service and our profession. It is to reconcile ourselves to year upon year of pay erosion and the casual disregard for our expertise.’
To little, too late
Prof Banfield said the Government had disregarded the NHS workforce crisis, and with it a waiting list of more than seven million in England alone, and doctors emigrating en masse to Australia. While it had finally come up with a strategy last week, there were not the doctors to train the future workforce.
He said the BMA would continue to give strong support to whistleblowers, with the NHS having a ‘culture of fear’ in which only 40 per cent of BMA members said they were content to report errors. He highlighted the case of the Isle of Man medical director Rosalind Ranson, backed by the BMA, who won a large settlement after facing bullying and harassment when she raised concerns with the island’s response to COVID.
‘I am in no doubt some NHS employers are guilty of the same tactics. And they need to know the BMA won’t allow this any more. If regulators won’t hold you accountable, we will call you out for the safety issues you have sought to hide.’
The most fundamental question, said Prof Banfield, was what doctors were worth.
‘You know it,’ he said. ‘You are invaluable. The patients we save and care for know what we’re worth. This country knows what we are worth.
‘So, let’s send a clear message to those in government who cannot ignore us any longer. We will not stay silent about what needs to change.’
BMA council chair Phil Banfield delivers his speech to ARM 2023