NHS CATASTROPHE – BMA warning over developing crisis

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THE chairman of the British Medical Association’s Consultants Committee has written an open letter to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt, warning that the NHS is facing a catastrophe, if funding continues to be diverted to the private sector.

In his letter, Dr Paul Miller says NHS Trusts are now facing a financial crisis that threatens redundancies amongst senior hospital doctors for the first time.

The BMA’s Consultants Committee has been receiving reports from hospitals in difficulty and now plans to survey all NHS Trusts in England to get a more accurate picture of what is going on.

Dr Miller said consultants were increasingly infuriated that government money was being poured into the pockets of health privateers, but was not getting to the ‘frontline’.

‘The cash shortages in the NHS contrast dramatically with the generous terms negotiated with companies such as Netcare UK and Alliance Medical . . . despite significant under-performance,’ Dr Miller wrote.

Warning of the growing number of reports of ‘serious funding shortfalls and consequent proposed cuts in patient services and in jobs’, he said: ‘For the first time in my memory, we are now receiving widespread reports of proposed freezes on consultant recruitment and even the threat of consultant redundancies.’

He said ‘widespread service closure and redundancies (including consultants) is all the more difficult to understand’ when the government claims it is giving record levels of funding to the NHS.

He said: ‘Serious questions have to be asked about where the increased NHS resources are going and, in particular, whether value for money is being achieved from the funding being preferentially ploughed into contracts for clinical services with private sector providers.

‘This is all the more concerning when the contracts agreed with such companies have allowed payment to continue despite significant under-performance, for example the orthopaedic contracts in South Yorkshire and Trent, the Alliance Medical MRI contract and the Netcare eye contract.

‘We are deeply concerned that managers running frightened for their jobs are making knee-jerk decisions about the reduction or closure of services in response to short-term funding problems.

‘Indeed, many such decisions by SHAs are penalising the good NHS performers and rewarding those with poorer records.

‘Crucially, these decisions are being taken without the input of front-line clinicians, particularly consultants.

‘As a result, there is no appreciation of the long-term consequences for patient services.

‘There is a desperate need for clinical engagement in local decision-making otherwise the potential impact of these cuts on the NHS could be catastrophic.

‘Furthermore, most of these processes are taking place without the knowledge of the local public, surely in contravention of the basic principles of a patient-centred NHS?’

Dr Miller asked for a meeting with Hewitt to discuss these issues as soon as possible.

•Second news story

MORE THAN 600 DEAD IN BAGHDAD PANIC

OVER 600 Iraqis were killed yesterday when a stampede was triggered by rumours of a bomber or bombers among a massive crowd of around one million people, attending a Shia religious ceremony in Baghdad.

Most of the casualties were women and children and most died by being trampled on in the panic or by drowning when a railing on al-Aaimmah bridge collapsed, sending people tumbling into the River Tigris.

The death toll was put at around 650, with over 300 other people injured.

The stampede occurred as pilgrims headed to the shrine of the revered religious figure Imam Musa al-Kadhim in al-Kadhimiya district on Wednesday.

One hospital said it had received at least 100 bodies by 12.30pm.

Many bodies were still in the water.

Tensions have been running high after a mortar and rocket attack more than two hours earlier killed at least seven people and injured at least 40 near to the mosque.

Staff at al-Kadhimiya hospital said half of the wounded in the mortar attack were women.

US Apache helicopters fired on the alleged attackers who launched the rockets, the US military said.

The Iraqi puppet government has declared three days of mourning for the victims of the stampede.

The tragedy takes place at a time when Sunni leaders are seeking to form a common front with the Shia people against the occupation and its constitution.