Date Published: 25 March 2015
The BMA asks politicians for long-term solutions to the crisis in A&E departments
UK Medics' organization the BMA is asking politicians to avoid past errors that resulted in Accident and Emergency (A&E) Departments across the United Kingdom struggling to meet the needs of patients.
The BMA is the trade union and professional body for medical practitioners in the UK, including both local doctors who are commonly referred to as 'General Practitioners' (GPs) and medical staff working in hospitals across the full range of medical specialties. The activities of the BMA include working with government departments and other appropriate organizations to campaign for changes that it believes would improve the delivery of health services to the public and improve public health, as well as its other roles such as fulfillings its trade union function of securing good working conditions etc. for its members.
The BMA's recent plea to politicians uses the slogan "No More Games with A&E", a provocative use of words as it is unlikely that any UK politician would accept the premise that he or she had been 'playing games' with the NHS, the nation's popular "free at the point of delivery" health service. It is unlikely that politicians would even admit to experimenting with the NHS at the present time, barely 6 weeks before the 2015 general election. This timing is, however, also significant: It is perhaps one of the best opportunities to try to extract promises and commitments from politicians desperate to secure positive media coverage and, ultimately, votes.
In a recent (25 Mar'15) statement on its website the BMA mentioned several statistics to suggest that the NHS is in need of some combination of more resources, more funding or greater efficiency than is currently in place. The items mentioned include:
- A&E departments across England having just experienced one of the 'worst' winters on record (not due to severe weather but relative to meeting public demand and various targets set by government). Specific examples of missed targets include the NHS missing its four hour A&E waiting time figure every week since the beginning of November 2014 and 17 hospitals declaring major incidents due to overwhelming pressure.
- The BMA's quarterly Omnibus survey indicates that many doctors have experienced the effect of pressures on patient care, with 29% experiencing a 'black alert' – issued when a hospital reaches capacity and has to turn away patient, which is an increase of 22% since the same period last year. The survey also indicated that 48% doctors had experienced breaches in A&E targets.
- 65% of medical practitions (working in both local and hospital care) have reported increases in patient waiting times, amounting to an overall increase of 18% since the same time last year.
One strong objection to the UK government's recent handling of the NHS is made clear in the BMA's assertion that "the political response to the crisis in A&E departments has been a series of headline grabbing initiatives and sticking plaster policies to bailout accident and emergency departments, rather than developing a long-term, sustainable solution". Such a choice of words implies the view that the government has not taken either the situation or the BMA's concerns sufficiently seriously. To substantiate its allegation that the "political response to the crisis in A&E deparatments" has been so superficial, the BMA gave examples of government announcements made during the last 18 months.
The BMA highlighted timings and outcomes of recent UK Government announcements concerning additional funding for health services, including A&E departments:
- August 2013: UK Government announced a £500m bailout for struggling A&Es – not 'new money', but funds from elsewhere in the Department of Health's 'efficiency savings'. The Prime Minister indicated that this was "a short term measure", with more actions needed to improve the NHS.
- November 2013: UK Government confirmed it was injecting another £250m for the coming winter. At the time the Health Secretary said: "This is a serious, long-term problem, which needs fundamental changes to equip our A&Es for the future."
- November 2014: UK Government announced £300m worth of emergency funding for winter pressures, which was in addition to the £400m announced during the summer. However, since then research from the Royal College of Emergency Medicine has indicated that only about 1% (£6,685,000) was spent directly on A&E services.
The BMA repeated its call for all politicians to "stop playing games with A&Es", and instead, to commit to having an open public debate and to find and implement solutions that will avoid repetition of the recent A&E crisis.
Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, said:
"The pressure on A&E is increasing every year yet politicians have so far failed to take the decisive action needed to put in place a sustainable, long-term plan. The result is an NHS that lurches from one winter crisis to another, which aims to simply manage rather than prevent a crisis, to the detriment of patient care.
_ Rather than annual emergency bailouts that are designed more to chase headlines than offer a lasting solution to the crisis, we need a long-term plan to equip hospitals with the funding, staff and resources they need to meet rising demand."
Source: British Medical Association, UK