‘NHS is in distress’

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‘OUR NHS is in distress’, Royal College of GPs (RCGP) Chair Dr Clare Gerada has warned.

Addressing nearly 2,000 GPs and health professionals at the RCGP annual national conference in Glasgow on Thursday, she said that as a result of the ‘rushed through’ Health Act, despite reassurances to the contrary, the NHS is now experiencing ‘the mother of all top-down reorganisations’.

‘As a result, our NHS is in distress. And so, too, are many of us,’ she added.

This came as it emerged that the current 28 cancer networks and 28 cardiovascular networks are to be replaced with 12 ‘strategic clinical networks’ for each.

The NHS Commissioning Board, which came in to being on Monday, said ‘Strategic clinical networks will cover conditions or patient groups. The conditions or patient groups chosen for the first strategic clinical networks are: Cancer; Cardiovascular disease (including cardiac, stroke, diabetes and renal disease); Maternity and children’s services; and mental health, dementia and neurological conditions.

‘These networks will exist for up to five years and will be managed by 12 locally based support teams.’

Meanwhile, Dr Mark Porter, the new chairman of the BMA Council, has called for more spending on the NHS by increased taxation, so as to stop the cuts in frontline patient care.

In an interview with the BBC, he said that the £20bn government savings drive was resulting in cuts to services.

He gave the examples of places where cataract surgery would only be done when a patient was blind in both eyes, or knee replacements only being offered if the patient could go back to work, and the postcode lottery in IVF fertility treatment.

He said: ‘What sort of society are we in where we are richer than ever but we can’t offer the basic medical and surgical care that we offered only 10 years ago?’

Dr Porter said it was time to ‘re-examine the assumption’ that the NHS could cope with its current level of funding. He opposed patient charges and proposed that taxes may need to be raised to stop the cuts in frontline services.

The current position is that the coalition government has capped funding in the NHS to a 0.1% increase per year, calling this ‘ringfencing’. But when inflation is taken into account, this is a real-terms cut.

In addition, the government has continued the former Labour government policy of making £20bn ‘savings’ to the NHS, 4% of its budget per year.

Commenting on his call, Anna Athow, former BMA Council member, said: ‘Dr Porter quite rightly slams the massive cuts to patient care.

‘However, he avoids condemning the 4% per annum QIPP cuts which have squeezed out £5bn over the last two years. This money is being poured back into huge contracts with the private sector.

‘The BMA should demand the end of these so called “efficiency savings” immediately.

‘It should launch a campaign to protect all frontline services, acute hospitals, GP and community services from cuts and closures, and link this to a campaign for the reversal of the Health Act, which was voted at this year’s annual conference.’