NHS faces bleak future unless Government reverses ‘brutal’ £800m pre-Covid pandemic cuts, BMA chair warns

BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said ministers can no longer exploit ‘a well of goodwill which has totally run dry’

NHS faces bleak future unless Government reverses ‘brutal’ £800m pre-Covid pandemic cuts, BMA chair warns

The BMA chair said doctors are suffering from utter exhaustion (Photo: Victoria Jones/PA)

By Paul GallagherHealth Correspondent

The NHS faces a bleak future without a Government guarantee to reverse “brutal” pre-pandemic cuts to health services, the outgoing head of the British Medical Association (BMA) has warned.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul said ministers can no longer exploit “a well of goodwill which has totally run dry”.

About 100,000 NHS vacancies remain unfilled as the waiting list backlog, worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, continues to grow. The BMA chair of council described it as a “crisis of unimaginable proportions”.

In his final speech at the Union’s annual representative meeting in Brighton, Dr Nagpaul warned the UK had 50,000 fewer doctors in England than the average among countries such as France, Germany, Canada and Japan.

He said the Government “needs to wake up, open its eyes and realise that we can’t afford to lose a single doctor if patients aren’t to suffer more”.

He added: “It needs to grasp that the NHS has survived to this point solely thanks to the goodwill of staff. You cannot run an NHS perpetually by exploiting a well of goodwill which has totally run dry. Doctors will and are walking away.”

Dr Nagpaul demanded guarantees from the Government to reverse the “drastic deficit” in hospital beds “forcing last minute cancellation of operations each time there’s a surge in demand”, to have no repeat of “shameful squandering of billions” on test and trace, and “face the glaring truth” of doctor shortages.

He also demanded the Government “reverse its brutal £800m pre-pandemic cuts to our public health services, which left us fighting Covid blindfolded without testing capacity in the first wave, flouting the WHO edict of ‘test test test’ and leading to the UK having one of the highest infection levels internationally“.

He warned that doctors are suffering from utter exhaustion, with up to half saying their mental health has been affected, 50 per cent more likely to take early retirement and seven in 10 likely to work fewer hours. Findings from the doctors’ union showed nine in 10 doctors “fear making medical errors daily” as a result of lack of resources or workforce capacity, he said.

Dr Nagpaul also hit out at the Government over Partygate. He said: “It’s an absolute insult to the dedication of doctors that as we topped up IV fluids to sick patients, they merrily topped up their glasses in defiance of the rules they themselves set.”

His warning comes as a new study reveals that the number of people waiting for an elective procedure in England is likely to triple by 2030 without urgent action to tackle “hidden” waiting lists, a “postcode lottery” and rising economic impact.

University of Birmingham researchers say it is inevitable that NHS surgical waiting lists will continue to grow and that a minimum investment of £9bn is needed to clear the current backlog of 4.3m patients waiting for elective procedures, such as colonoscopies, endoscopies and planned operations such as hip replacements and hernia repairs, which could rise to 14.6m by 2030.

Previous NHS waiting list analyses have been based on the overall waiting list, which stands at 6.4m patients and includes patients waiting for all types of consultant-led care including outpatient clinic visits and non-surgical treatments.

Dr Nagpaul told the conference: “[The] Government needs to wake up, open its eyes and realise that we can’t afford to lose a single doctor if patients aren’t to suffer more.

There are now more than 1.2m full-time equivalent staff working in the NHS in England with officials adding that as of March 2022, there are now almost 18,700 (3 per cent) more professionally qualified clinical staff working in NHS Trusts and clinical commissioning groups compared with a year earlier.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has commissioned NHS England to develop a Long-Term Workforce Plan with the key conclusions to be published “in due course”.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “It’s evident the pandemic placed unprecedented pressure on the NHS and had a huge knock-on effect on our health services. We estimate that about 11m people didn’t come forward for treatment during the pandemic who otherwise would have.

“We’re doing everything we can to bust the Covid backlogs, grow our workforce, reduce waiting times and expand health infrastructure, backed by record investment. We have record numbers of doctors, nurses and healthcare staff working in the NHS and the number of people waiting two years has reduced by two-thirds since January, meaning thousands more people have now accessed vital operations and procedures.

“We are rolling out new surgical hubs and community diagnostic centres, with over 90 diagnostic centres already open, delivering over one million scans in the last year – and we are investing record sums to upgrade and modernise NHS buildings, delivering the biggest hospital building programme in a generation, with a target of 48 hospitals by 2030.”

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