BMA: One year to save the NHS

The chairman of the British Medical Association (BMA) has said that there is just one year left to save the NHS.

James Johnson pointed out funding is set to be restricted from next year onwards, however major problems still persist.

“In 2008 the year-on-year significant rise in additional NHS resources will fall back dramatically to figures around the 2.5 per cent level,” he said at a press briefing yesterday.

“Despite the extra money, NHS trusts all over the country are in deficit, clinics cancelled, wards closed, operating theatres being under-used and staff made redundant or posts not advertised.”

And this comes as government estimates show shortfalls in GPs and excess numbers of doctors in the years to come (full story).

“The whole situation demonstrates an appalling lack of workforce planning,” Mr Johnson said.

“In the UK, unlike other countries, the medical schools produce doctors designed for the NHS. So if the government is producing more doctors that it can afford to employ when fully trained, it is a complete waste of public money.”

He pointed out the cost of training a doctor is £250,000, in addition to specialist training.

“If juniors cannot secure suitable jobs in the future within the NHS they may look overseas for employment. What a disastrous waste of public money.”

To remedy this, Mr Johnson called for more effective workforce planning within the NHS and the reinstatement of clinician-led workforce planning. He added that as the medical schools the government finance produce doctors for the NHS, there should be enough NHS jobs available for medical students when they are fully trained. If there are not, the government is simply wasting money training people.

“Last year I said we had two years left to save the health service before the huge sums of additional investment dried up,” he said.

“Now we have much less time. My offer to the government is work with doctors and other clinicians to let us help you sort out the problems.”

A spokesman for the Department of Health responded, saying the government was “fully committed to a publicly-funded NHS which delivers healthcare according to clinical need, not ability to pay”.

“But it is a mistake to judge the future success of the NHS simply on the level of resources, and not on how effectively it uses those resources,” he added.

“System reform, greater productivity, and investment in prevention are the routes to a sustainable NHS for the long term – especially in the context of an ageing population and rapidly advancing medical science.”