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Doctors’ primary duty is to make patient care ‘their first concern’: BMA responds to hospital asking doctors to risk patient care in face of pressures

Responding to a memo sent to staff at Royal Cornwall Hospital Trusts, which suggested that doctors discharged patients early despite the risk that they could come to harm1, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, BMA council chair, said:

“The BMA has repeatedly warned that the NHS has been woefully underfunded for over a decade, and this has resulted in an understaffed service with inadequate numbers of beds and facilities. Just last week we heard that December marked another record low for NHS performance – with one in five patients waiting longer than four hours in A&E, and 12,000 waiting more than 12 hours for a bed.

“In the face of these pressures, this example highlights the frankly unacceptable situation doctors are facing on the ground, being pressured to discharge patients earlier than is clinically appropriate – putting both themselves and patients at risk – due to a lack of capacity and unprecedented demand.

“This is a dire indictment of the state our NHS has been allowed to creep into.

“Doctors’ primary professional duty is to make the care of their patient their first concern. They must treat the patient in front of them, based on their individual clinical needs, and doctors should never be coerced to go against their expert and considered judgement.

“We are writing to the Trust to express our serious concern and we are ready to support any doctor who refuses to compromise their care to patients. We are also reaching out to the GMC.

“As the trade union representing all doctors and medical students in the UK, we urge any members who are worried about receiving such a message, either at this trust or elsewhere, to seek advice from their medical defence organisation as well as from the BMA2 so that they can receive support on the ground.”


Notes to editors

The BMA is a trade union 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.

  1. Cornwall early-discharge patients may “come to harm”’ (BBC Online, 13 January 2020)
  2. For information on how to contact us, BMA members can visit this page.

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