Public blames Government for long NHS waiting list – BMA

The public blames the Government for the 7.7 million-long NHS waiting list in England, which is set to get worse because of more strikes, according to a report.

Junior doctors and consultants will launch their longest period of combined industrial action on Monday, walking out for three days in a long-running dispute over pay.

Both sets of staff took joint action earlier this month for the first time in the history of the NHS.

Since the strikes began, the cumulative total of acute inpatient and outpatient appointments having to be rescheduled has exceeded a million.

The industrial action earlier this month led to almost 130,000 inpatient and outpatient appointments being rescheduled.

The British Medical Association (BMA) said a new survey of 1,765 adults showed that Government attempts to blame medics for “cripplingly long” waiting lists have not convinced the public.

More than two in five respondents blamed the Government for the increase in waiting lists for elective treatment, which have risen from 2.6 million in 2010 to almost 7.7 million.

This is almost three times the number who blame striking doctors (15%), said the BMA.

More than a fifth of Conservative voters blamed the Government, which the BMA said was “especially concerning” for the party which is holding its annual conference in Manchester this week.

Junior doctors and consultants will join a protest rally in Manchester on Tuesday, as well as radiographers, who will be on strike from 8am for 24 hours.

The BMA said the Prime Minister has repeatedly used striking doctors as “scapegoats” for rising waiting lists, but added that lists have increased by five million in 13 years under the Tories.

Professor Phil Banfield, the BMA chair of council, said: “Doctors are fed up of being told we are the problem with the NHS. Wanting to be valued for our expertise the same as we were in 2008 is not a radical demand; in fact, it is essential to having the workforce needed to bring down waiting times.

“It is not fair for the Government to continue to blame doctors or other healthcare workers for their own failure to properly resource the health service in England.

“What we see today is that the public largely sees through that excuse. Many more appointments and operations are cancelled outside the strike days because of a shortage of beds, staff or operating capacity due to the relative chronic underfunding.

“As the party in government for the last 13 years they need to use this year’s conference to look back at their record and consider there might be an alternative to policies that have led to millions more on waiting lists and an NHS on its knees. We will be there to help suggest a better way – one that values doctors properly.

“We don’t want to be on strike, we don’t want to have to protest at party conferences, but we do want doctors to be recognised as the highly skilled practitioners of medicine that they are.

“We want to be serving our patients, but without the staffing levels, pay and conditions that lead to doctor retention, the cost and consequences of waiting lists will continue to get worse and worse. We feel that we have no choice but to take this action, because this Government has ignored doctors and patients for so long.

“We need a demonstrable, drastic change in attitude from Government – no more excuses, no more reckless ultimatums, and no more empty words.”

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, said: “We can’t go on like this. It’s an uphill battle.

“We need the Government and unions to talk urgently to find a breakthrough that could stop strikes.

“Winter, if it’s anything like last year, will be really tough. Trust leaders and staff need time to plan and prepare for winter’s extra demands and pressures, while working flat out to cut record-high waiting lists, instead of dealing with the unwanted distraction of yet more strikes.”

NHS national medical director Professor Sir Stephen Powis said: “NHS services have had very little time to recover from the previous action, and to now face an unprecedented three consecutive days of ‘Christmas Day’ cover this week which will prove extremely challenging, with almost all routine care brought to a near-standstill.

“Staff are working incredibly hard to prioritise emergency care, and we’re very grateful to the public for using the NHS wisely during this period of disruption by using 999 in life-threatening situations and 111 online and community services like pharmacies and GPs for everything else.”

Health and Social Care Secretary Steve Barclay said: “I’m deeply disappointed and concerned by further co-ordinated strike action which poses continued challenges for the NHS and disruption for patients, and means more will have vital treatment and care delayed.

“Over one million appointments have been rescheduled due to strikes and the BMA’s hard-line stance means this number will only continue rising.

“In addition, during previous strike action, the BMA has repeatedly refused to permit some junior doctors to deliver essential care where local clinical leaders considered it necessary. This is further putting patients at needless risk.

“I urge unions to end their relentless strike action. Doctors have received a fair and reasonable pay rise – as recommended by the independent pay review body, which we’ve accepted in full.

“This means doctors who started their hospital training this year are receiving a 10.3% pay increase, with the average junior doctor getting 8.8% and consultants are receiving a 6% pay rise alongside generous reforms to their pensions – the BMA’s number one ask.”