A motion of no confidence in health secretary Jeremy Hunt has been passed by the British Medical Association at its Annual Representatives Meeting.
Dr Jacky Davis proposed the motion and suggested the recently implemented Health and Social Care Act – with its threats to a nationally delivered, universal healthcare system – provided sufficient justification for the vote.
She exhorted the BMA to act like a union, and there was overwhelming support among representatives for the motion.
The BMA’s chair of council, Dr Mark Porter, was also surprisingly supportive. Normally the chair of BMA calls for representatives to focus on the issues and not highlight individuals. But, Dr Porter said there was such a level of challenge to the profession and the NHS that such a vote was justified.
The ARM followed it up shortly afterwards by voting to repeal the entire Health and Social Care Act, rather than just resist the s75 parts of the Act that enforce widespread competitive tendering.
Earlier in the day, in his opening address to the conference, Dr Porter warned that the NHS will fail unless doctors, other health care staff, patients and their families are listened to.
In his first speech as chair, he warned government that medicine is becoming a profession “on the edge” as doctors try desperately to deal with the “sheer, unparalleled scale of demand”.
He said: “As doctors we have one of the most privileged jobs in the world – helping patients and improving the health of the nation. It’s what we do and it is often wonderful, inspiring and life affirming. But it’s easy to forget that as the NHS struggles to cope with the double whammy of cuts and structural change. I feel as if we’re becoming a profession on the edge. And a medical profession on the edge, means a National Health Service on the edge.
“Doctors are desperately trying to just deal with the sheer, unparalleled scale of demand on existing services. And we experience overwhelming frustration that we cannot achieve the changes and improvements that we can see are so necessary to deal with this pressure.
“We need to make sure the voice of the profession is heard, if it isn’t the NHS will fail.”
In the 12 weeks since the Health and Social Care Act in England came fully into force, Dr Porter said that although we are yet to see its full impact, the government’s response so far to the problems facing the NHS has been “inadequate and divisive”, and cost improvement programmes are “cutting resources to and beyond the bone”.
He said: “We are all painfully aware of the funding restraints on the NHS. It may have escaped the kind of swingeing real-terms cuts that other departments will suffer when the comprehensive spending review is published on Wednesday. But the claim that health spending is protected rings hollow when we face rising demand, new treatments to pay for, and virtually every NHS organisation is suffering year-on-year cuts.
“The financial pressures are leading to far too many botched, quick fixes, including some drastic cuts in staffing which leave remaining staff spread far too thinly. How can we expect this to be safe for our patients?”
Writing in The Guardian prior to the conference, Dr Jacky Davis called on the BMA to challenge the Health and Social Care Act more forcefully. She said: ‘What might the BMA do to redeem its failure to fight the Act? It could begin by spending some of its considerable resources on a high-profile campaign to tell the public why the NHS is in danger and what we stand to lose if we don’t defend it.
‘It should ensure that the NHS becomes an election issue in 2015, hold Labour to its promise to repeal the Act and back Lord Owen’s bill to restore the secretary of state’s responsibility for the NHS. It should produce evidence to counter the self-serving attacks by politicians on the service, including closures masquerading as “reconfigurations”, and it should defend its staff when they are blamed for the chaos that is a result of “reforms”. And since the holy grail of GP commissioning is turning to base metal before our eyes it should “critically engage” its members on whether they think it’s time to withdraw from the process. It should rediscover its voice as a trade union, abandon appeasement and come out fighting.’
Read Dr Porter’s full speech.