Doctors Don’t Back Hospital Closures

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THE British Medical Association yesterday denied the Observer newspaper claims that doctors back the ‘reconfiguration’ of 60 hospitals involving the closure of A&Es and maternity departments.

A BMA spokeswoman told News Line: ‘(BMA chairman) James Johnson’s remarks are not in line with the Observer headline.’

She was referring to the quoted remarks by Johnson in the Observer, saying: ‘We have talked for many years about the need to create large multi-centres which have all the facilities.

‘The thing that has stopped it is political timidity because local politicians are terrified of the potential fallout of their local casualty department going.

‘The public does seem to agree with the broad principle of larger centres and better facilities, but what people also want is an all-singing, all-dancing university teaching hospital at the bottom of the road.’

The Observer continued to report that Johnson’s reaction to any attempt by Labour to protect hospitals in its marginal seats was ‘disgraceful’.

The BMA spokeswoman added yesterday: ‘The BMA could never not support reconfiguration ever.

‘But it is absolutely beyond the pale to carry out reconfiguration for political advantage.

‘The BMA would be opposed to closures for political reasons.

‘If there were to be reconfigurations, we would expect the needs of patients to be put first and that there must be close consultation with clinicians.’

Last Thursday, the chairman of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) Consultants’ Committee, Dr Paul Miller put out a statement in response to one from NHS chief executive David Nicholson that planned ‘reconfigurations’ may well see up to 60 closures of A&E, paediatric and maternity departments especially in the smaller district hospitals.

Miller said: ‘The BMA is worried that system change in the NHS is adversely affecting patient care and is causing the break-up of the health service.

‘On one hand we hear that A&E and maternity units will be closing and on the other we learn that lucrative contracts are being given to private companies.

‘The fact that the private sector often does not provide value for money does not seem to concern the government.

‘Reconfiguration to improve services can be a positive move but closing hospitals just to save money will have disastrous effects for patients.

‘The patients who will suffer most will be the elderly, the mentally ill and those with long-term chronic conditions.

‘The private sector will not want to touch these costly and complex groups and the BMA fears they will be forgotten in the new world of NHS plc.’

Asked if Miller’s statement is BMA policy, the BMA spokeswoman said: ‘We are opposed to further privatisation of the NHS.’

Pressed, she said: ‘If there is to be reconfiguration there will have to be widespread consultation with the public and clinicians.

‘We are not going to say the BMA is opposed to every proposal to close something.

‘The response depends on local conditions, the effect on patients, especially the elderly and mentally ill, and what the outcome of consultations are.’

Consultant surgeon Mrs Anna Athow said: ‘The Observer’s allegation that doctors support hospital closures is outrageous.

‘At last year’s annual BMA conference, a resolution was overwhelmingly passed calling for the restoration of the funding cuts and an end to hospital closures.

‘At this year’s consultants and specialists conference in June, a motion specifically defending district general hospitals was passed almost unanimously.

‘Doctors are not being consulted on these closures, we are being dictated to by the government and strategic health authorities.

‘If James Johnson really supports these closures, then he does not speak for his membership.

‘The BMA membership took a vote of no confidence in his leadership at this year’s Annual Representative Meeting because he refused to oppose the government’s “reforms”.’