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Doctors attack 'nonsensical' NHS cost-cutting

Published on 19/02/07 at 09:58am

The British Medical Association has branded as "nonsensical" the situation whereby hospitals delay routine operations because of financial problems.

The doctors' protest came after surveys indicated that operations were being postponed across the country to allow PCTs to balance the books.

And the BMA warned there will be repercussions from such delays in the pharma industry. "There is always a knock-on effect for pharma companies; they are part of the market," said Ian Wilson, deputy chairman of the BMA consultants' committee."There may be particular problems where there is a bulk purchase agreement over time, with hospitals perhaps saying 'we can't honour them'. There is a pressure to use cheaper drugs which may not necessarily be the best."

The BMA is gathering evidence of what it sees as the negative effects of government NHS reform as part of its Caring for the NHS campaign. Examples of procedures which are being put on hold in some PCTs include treatment of all non-malignant skin lesions, varicose vein removal, the provision of epidurals for chronic pain relief and grommet operations.

A government "obsession" with balance sheets is forcing the hand of PCTs, believes one doctor." In some cases, trusts have no choice but to stop buying services for patients," he said.

The association's chairman, James Johnson, said: "This is happening across the country and the worst is yet to come. Its an absolutely nonsensical situation. The market system where care is bought and sold was supposed to increase efficiency, but it seems to be making things worse. It's clearly not in patients' interests that there are incentives for PCTs to delay operations."

Health secretary Patricia Hewitt has stressed that achieving financial balance need not harm patient care. But the BMA furore has erupted against a backdrop of financial woes for NHS trusts across the country, with increasingly desperate measures being taken to slash costs.

Epsom and St Helier hospital has removed around 40 light bulbs from its corridors, in a bid to help it save a total of £24 million over 18 months.

Meanwhile Bexley Care Trust has considered training clerical staff to weigh babies in its maternity ward in order to save money.

So-called 'hit squads' of consultants have been dispatched to 18 of the most poorly performing trusts to help them return to financial balance.

The 18 trusts:

Hammersmith Hospitals,

Barnet and Chase Farm,

Mid Yorkshire,

Royal West Sussex,

Surrey and Sussex,

Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals,

University Hospital North Staffordshire,

Shrewsbury and Telford,

George Eliot Hospital,

Hillingdon PCT,

Selby and York PCT,

Cheshire West PCT,

West Wiltshire PCT,

Kennet and North Wiltshire PCT

Four Sheffield PCTs.


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