Industrial action not ruled out – over pensions says Scottish BMA leader

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Nurses and other NHS workers on the 50,000-strong London march during the pensions strike last month
Nurses and other NHS workers on the 50,000-strong London march during the pensions strike last month

A group of seven leading public health specialists, past presidents of the UK Faculty of Public Health, have called for the Health and Social Care Bill to be withdrawn, because of its ‘threat to the integrity and cohesion of the NHS’.

They warn of its likely effect to ‘widen inequalities in health and healthcare,’ an article in the British Medical Journal has revealed.

In a letter to prime minister Cameron they warn that the bill’s proposals mark ‘an unprecedented marketisation of the NHS which will promote competition at the expense of collaboration’.

The range of healthcare providers will reduce the desire for coordinated collaboration, with ‘care pathways becoming disjointed and the NHS’s assets (and) its professional workforce (becoming) increasingly fragmented’.

In November a survey found little support for the bill among nearly 1,000 of its members. Most (71%) thought that the changes would make it harder to reduce health inequalities and to respond to emergencies and would not reduce bureaucracy (83%).

The letter’s signatories are Alwyn Smith, June Crown, Rod Griffiths, Sian Griffiths, Walter Holland, Alan Maryon-Davis, and James McEwan.

The leader of Scotland’s doctors yesterday warned that the continued attacks on the medical workforce’s terms and conditions, could risk ‘compassion fatigue’ amongst NHS professionals and lead to the long-term damage of our National Health Service.

Dr Brian Keighley, Chairman of the BMA in Scotland, in his New Year message, said: ‘It is disappointing that over the course of the year, doctors have come under repeated attack on several fronts. Their contracts are being devalued and undermined by NHS employers and now politicians are attacking the NHS pension scheme.

‘It would appear that our political leaders perceive these to be the solution to the country’s national deficit.

‘While this approach might deliver some savings in the short term, it will, in the longer term cause damage to patient care and the loss of doctors from the NHS as many may choose to retire early.

‘The NHS is nothing without its staff and right now with pending budget cuts, pressure on boards to make further savings, and staff cuts on hospital wards, doctors have less time to spend with patients and their goodwill is being pushed to breaking point.

‘Next year will see us surveying our members on the proposals for reform of the NHS pension scheme, and we have not ruled out a ballot for industrial action. Politicians should be wary of underestimating the strength of feeling amongst all members of the NHS pension scheme and listen to our concerns.’

• Four out of five doctors have said they saw patient care suffer as a result of health service cuts during 2011 in a poll of GPs and hospital doctors, carried out for the Guardian newspaper.

Doctors.net.uk, a professional networking site to which almost all British doctors belong, asked: ‘Have cuts to staff and/or services affected patient care in your department, area or surgery during the last 12 months?’

Of the 664 doctors who responded, 527 (79%) said yes and 137 (21%) said no.

Among 440 hospital doctors, 359 have seen cuts, while 168 of the 224 family doctors said the same.

British Medical Association consultants committee chair Dr Mark Porter said that ‘NHS cuts are ongoing and it adds up to a picture where the NHS is now retracting.’