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“Pushed into conflict by belligerent government”

Consultants are being diverted from improving patient care by the government’s determination to implement the controversial Health Bill and compromise the NHS pension scheme.

This is what the chairman of the BMA’s consultants committee told delegates at its annual conference for senior hospital doctors. “Consultants have been pushed into conflict by a belligerent and obstinate government, when we would far rather be planning improvements in clinical services,” Dr Mark Porter said.

He warned that huge challenges face secondary care, in particular the mounting evidence that patients are more likely to die if admitted as emergencies in the evening and at the weekend.

The government should be investing in new ways of working so that the delivery of care is consistent and yet “the tragedy is that doctors’ time and effort is being increasingly diverted away from seeking to improve patient care,” he said.

In the wake of the BMA’s decision to ballot its members on industrial action over major changes to the NHS pension scheme, Porter urged the government to enter into meaningful talks to avert any disruption to the NHS.

The government is proposing to raise doctors’ retirement age to 68; there would be a move from a final salary pension scheme to one based on career average earnings; and there would be an increase in contributions for senior doctors from 8.5% up to 14.5% by 2014.

Porter said: “It turns out that the current two-year pay freeze will cost the typical 40-year old consultant 27% more than the lifetime contributions rise for the pensions, and will reduce the benefit of the NHS pension by more than double the amount of the government’s pension proposals.

“And yet there has been an acquiescence to the public sector pay freeze that we have not seen on pensions. Perhaps this is because the pension dispute in which we are engaged is not about money itself, but is about two things – outrage at a broken agreement and, for consultants, an incensed feeling that the action against NHS pensions is specifically designed to hit hospital medical staff.”

Despite ruling out strike action, Porter said that consultants will not just “quietly accept the breaking of the compact that underpins our professionalism”.

He is also concerned that the majority of new consultant posts are now being advertised without the recommended time dedicated to supporting professional activities (SPAs). Consultants use SPAs to plan new, innovative services that improve quality.

He said: “This is a wrong-headed and short-sighted approach. Consultants should not be prevented from working on quality improvement, and yet this is happening in today’s topsy-turvy NHS.”

Porter renewed the BMA’s call for the government to abandon the Health and Social Care Bill, which he described as “447 pages of unintelligible red tape”.  He added that most royal colleges, many patients and most of the public oppose the Bill and that “the Big Society is giving voice to its concerns. The Big Society says – enough of this. Mr Cameron, stop the Bill.”

Instead Dr Porter called on the government to “convene a consensual way forwards that includes those whose vocation is clinical care, rather than exclude us”.

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One Response to ““Pushed into conflict by belligerent government””

  1. joshek says:

    the lament of the consultants comes a bit late. about a decade too late. in 2003, the consultant body voted that they do no longer want to be consultants and gave up their status and power by accepting the new contract.

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