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Charlie Duff

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NHS not so ‘protected’ after all


Despite reassurances from the coalition government that front-line services would be protected, many NHS Trusts are already being forced to make redundancies, introduce recruitment freezes and cut back on services, according to the BMA.

A survey of 92 local negotiating committee chairs undertaken by the doctors’ association revealed that 24% already planned to make redundancies in order to cut costs by an average of 6%, although the axe was expected to fall mainly in non-clinical and non-medical areas. Nearly two thirds also had recruitment freezes in place, with 70% of this category saying that the freeze covered medical posts and 80% that it applied to nursing roles.
Some 72% of those questioned likewise indicated that clinical service and infrastructure initiatives were being postponed for financial reasons, while two out of five said that access to treatment and therapies was now being limited.
Hamish Meldrum, the organisation’s chairman of council, said: “Despite the government’s best assurances that front-line services will be protected, our data show that cuts are already being planned or becoming reality and that these will have an impact on doctors’ ability to care for patients.”
Even changes to back room functions and admin processes had an impact on frontline staff who, in many cases had to pick up the work themselves, which meant less time spent with patients, he added.
Although the government had guaranteed that the NHS would see growth in spending in real terms, the fact it was likely to be “minimal” was leading to “blanket bans, indiscriminate cost cutting and decisions seemingly taken for political and financial expediency rather than because of good clinical evidence”, Meldrum said.
To try and counteract this situation, patients, local populations and health professionals needed to be actively involved in decision-making relating to change. “We urge the government and NHS organisations to focus on those areas where they can truly eliminate waste and achieve genuine efficiency savings rather than adopt a ‘slash-and-burn’ approach to healthcare with arbitrary cuts and poorly thought-through policies,” Meldrum said.
At a keynote address to 500 doctors at the Association’s annual conference in Brighton yesterday, however, Meldrum took his arguments a stage further, warning the government not to mess with clinician’s pay and pensions.
“I’ve said that we should be reasonable and responsible when it comes to pay, but don’t underestimate us when it comes to protecting doctor’s jobs and pensions. On these, I will not be reasonable, if being reasonable means accepting cuts in the number of doctors or reneging on the recently agreed, revised pension arrangements for NHS staff,” he said.
In times or recession and greater levels of unemployment, of greater hardship and stress, the public required more not less doctors, he added. Moreover, the profession had already agreed to pension changes two years ago when the pension age was raised to 65, government contributions were capped and contributions by higher-paid personnel raised.
“I am not someone who easily resorts to threats, but I warn the government – in a spirit of cooperation and being helpful – if you really want a crisis in the NHS, start meddling with the NHS pension scheme,” Meldrum said.

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Charlie Duff


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