Details on an expansion in seven-day services are still lacking, the BMA says as the Government responded to a petition demanding a debate for a vote of no confidence in the health secretary.
In its response to the online petition, the Government says that it had an ‘obligation to the public’ to ensure equality in standards of weekday and weekend healthcare, but concedes that to do so would take more than simply increasing the presence of consultants.
BMA council chair Mark Porter welcomed the Government’s acknowledgment that improvements in weekend care would require wide-ranging considerations relating to funding and staffing.
He said: ‘Doctors care for their patients every day and understand their needs, and have been explicit in their support for more seven-day hospital services.
‘We have repeatedly called on the Government to outline how it will fund and staff them, and yet neither we nor the public are any closer to finding out the detail of the Government’s plans.
‘Two-thirds of the public don’t think the NHS can afford seven-day services. Almost nine in 10 don’t believe doctors alone can deliver it, and 84 per cent say delivering seven-day services should not mean fewer services are available during the week.’
Define seven-day services
Dr Porter said that while the BMA supported the principle of seven-day services, politicians now had to provide answers to the public as well as a clear definition of what the term ‘seven-day services’ would mean in practice.
He said: ‘Just adding a doctor to a ward will make no real difference if the support is not there. But recognising this is not enough, we need the detail.
‘The Government won’t even define what they mean by seven-day services, despite confirming that such a definition does exist and that it would be in the public interest to say so. It is in everybody’s interests that the Government is honest with the public and sets outs its plans.’
The petition was set up by doctor Ash Sadighi in response to Jeremy Hunt’s claim that the Government would impose a new contract on doctors unless they agreed to seven-day services.
The text of the petition, which reached a total of 185,601 signatures, argues that Mr Hunt’s actions have ‘alienated the entire workforce of the NHS’ and calls for politicians to debate a vote of no confidence in the health secretary.
In its response the Government says that it would examine issues such as access to diagnostic services, out-of-hospital care and staffing among other clinical staff.
It maintained, however, that the current consultant opt-out on weekend work was ‘a barrier to organising broader support services and staff rotas’.
Dr Porter added: 'The Government's singling out of consultants has backfired.
'It has provoked individual doctors to start online petitions and the Twitter #ImInWorkJeremy campaign, each mobilising hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers to protest that the NHS really is there seven days a week.'
Read the petition
Read the BMA press release