The BMA has written to Rishi Sunak warning that his government must urgently act to address workforce shortages, pensions and workload pressures ‘before it is too late’.
In a letter to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, association council chair Philip Banfield outlined in no uncertain terms the vast scale of challenges threatening the stability of both the NHS and the medical profession.
In his 31 October correspondence with Mr Sunak, Professor Banfield warned that punitive pensions taxation and real terms pay cut for doctors coupled with ever rising workloads were exacerbating the NHS’ staffing crisis.
While insisting that the BMA was eager to work with ministers to find solutions to these challenges, Prof Banfield further warned that any proposals to implement future cuts to the health service’s budget would only make matters worse.
He said: ‘I must warn against making direct cuts to NHS budgets or to allow spiralling inflation to do its own erosive damage. It would be a false economy not to prioritise the NHS at a time when it is most needed by its patients and indeed to contribute to a healthier population on which the economy can rebuild.
‘NHS England has already warned that inflation will, without positive action and investment from Government, lead to cuts to services. The lower standards of care currently commonplace across the NHS, the record waiting times and waiting lists, the personal anguish behind each one of these statistics, should not be acceptable.
‘Staff morale has been left in tatters by the unceasing workload they were experiencing prior to and during the pandemic. This has continued unabated. The staffing crises across all professions and real term pay cuts have left doctors feeling completely taken for granted.’
With junior doctors set to be balloted over potential industrial action next year, Prof Banfield said that he hoped returning secretary of state for health Steve Barclay would seek to “fully engage” with the BMA’s JDC over their calls for pay restoration to 2008/09 levels.
He also warned that tackling the ongoing pensions crisis was critical if the haemorrhaging of experienced, senior doctors from the NHS was to stop and the pressures on understaffing begin to be addressed.
Prof Banfield said: ‘From your previous role as Chancellor, you will be aware of the impact that punitive pension taxation is having on the retention of senior NHS doctors. The number of doctors taking early retirement has more than tripled over the last 13 years, with the average retirement age already falling to 59.
‘We simply cannot afford to lose the expertise and resource that these doctors represent. Replacing them will be impossible, and even filling some of their vacancies will take significant time and be more expensive than keeping them in post.’
In his letter, Prof Banfield also called for the Government to take action to get primary care on to a ‘sustainable footing’, citing the huge numbers of GPs being lost due to retirement and burnout.
He said: ‘We have over 1,800 fewer GPs carrying out record numbers of appointments at an unsustainable frequency. GPs are under incredible pressure and are burnt out.
‘We must do all we can to retain every one of our doctors and our General Practitioners Committee are eager to work with Government on the solutions which will get primary care on to a sustainable footing.’