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Health Insight August 2001: Doctors in conference


The British Medical Association’s annual conference was this year marked by an unusually high level of criticism of the government’s performance on healthcare. The BMA’s Secretary General, Dr Ian Bogle, said the government was treating doctors as ‘whipping boys’ and ‘scapegoats’. The medical profession was now under siege and doctors were close to breaking point. Delegates focused on the same principal areas of complaint that doctors have repeatedly highlighted in recent months – lack of resources, workload, excessive paperwork, re-negotiation of contracts for GPs, and the General Medical Council.

Of increasing concern to GPs is that the average amount of time they are able to spend with individual patients is continuing to decrease; it now stands at seven minutes, compared with the fifteen the BMA says is necessary. The meeting voted unanimously to support GPs in their efforts to negotiate new contracts. Eighty-six per cent of GPs responding to a recent ballot said they were prepared to resign from the NHS if satisfactory new contracts were not negotiated by April 2002. The meeting instructed the BMA‘s GPs committee to develop a model that would enable GPs to deliver primary care services if mass resignation became inevitable.

Dissatisfaction with the GMC is now running at a high level but the meeting stopped short of calling for the resignation of current President Sir Donald Irvine, who has already said he will retire next year. The BMA wants to see the GMC remain a professionally-led organisation but is unhappy with many of the proposed changes to the council’s structure. Alternative approaches to change were discussed. The BMA accepts in principle the ‘revalidation’ of practising doctors, but opposes the GMC’s plans in practice, because they would waste time and clinical skills, which would be better, spent on clinical care.

Other issues under discussion included the government’s plans for greater involvement of the private sector in healthcare delivery, which most doctors oppose, and the increasing risk of violence faced by doctors and other healthcare workers.

In his inaugural address the new BMA President, Professor David Carter, warned doctors not to take public esteem for granted: ‘We have not been fleet of foot in keeping up with public expectations’. He also said the BMA was right to call for more resources, but it would need to work with the government to make sure that extra resources were spent wisely. He added, ‘New doctors cannot be created overnight, and we should avoid draining doctors from countries like South Africa which have far greater problems to face than us in Britain.’

Sources: BMJ 14th July, BBC Online

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