THE leader of the British Medical Association (BMA) warned yesterday that the health service is under unprecedented pressure, with many parts of the NHS now close to breaking point.

Speaking before the Parliamentary NHS Select Committee on funding for health care, Dr Mark Porter, Chair of BMA Council, warned that demand on services is now far outstripping supply.

He said that this particularly applies in emergency medicine and general practice, leading to delays in accessing care, waiting time targets being missed and the unacceptable rationing of care.

Dr Porter highlighted the need for a long-term, sustainable funding plan for the NHS and called for an end to the continued erosion of front-line staff pay which has paid for billions of so-called ‘efficiency savings’ and means that pay is back at 2008 levels.

Dr Porter said: ‘The NHS is going through its tightest funding squeeze in half a century. While investment has stalled, demand on services is rising and a massive funding gap is opening up.

‘The NHS has reached a crossroads – it is a reflection on just how hard front-line staff are working that the quality of patient care has so far been protected, and indeed improved, despite years of underinvestment, but pressure on services is now at a critical point and cracks are beginning to appear.

‘For patients this means unacceptable waits for treatment, the worrying rationing of care and longer queues in our GP surgeries and emergency departments.

‘While greater integration of care, investment in preventative care and reforming the financially crippling PFI system are needed to deliver savings in the longer term, we cannot escape the fact the NHS is – at this moment – in dire financial straits.

‘Crucially, the government cannot continue to balance the books on the backs of front-line staff, and even the Health Secretary has acknowledged that years of pay freezes and real terms pay cuts are not sustainable.

‘Instead, politicians must outline a long-term, meaningful funding plan to ensure the NHS can rise to meet the enormous challenges facing it.

‘The NHS is one of the best healthcare systems in the world – the envy of others – but investment is now slipping behind other countries, threatening the quality of patient care.

‘We cannot continue to meet rising demand with underinvestment, and if we want to maintain universal healthcare then, put simply, the NHS needs more money.’