ONE of the country’s most senior doctors, Professor Philip Banfield, will say in a major speech to doctors today (Monday 24 June), that despite calling an election, the Prime Minister still needs to answer for the ‘empty promises,’ that have resulted in junior doctors in England calling another strike for later this week.

He will talk of the terrible impact on doctors of the Government’s cuts in spending and investment, doctors’ fears of speaking out about patient safety issues, and how the use of physician associates – who are not qualified doctors – is putting the profession and patient care at risk.

Professor Banfield, the British Medical Association (BMA) Chair of Council, will tell doctors gathered in Belfast from across the UK that: “it will be deeds, not words, that will guide our relationship with any new government” and there is a need to reset the way doctors across the UK are treated by government and employers.

Whilst industrial action and months of difficult negotiations resulted in the BMA securing pay uplifts for consultants and Specialty And Specialist (SAS) doctors in England, Professor Banfield will speak of his frustration that the Westminster Government has strung junior doctors along for 20 months with no intention of finding a resolution.

In his speech he will talk not just of industrial action in England, but how Governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are behaving. How in Wales, junior doctors, SAS doctors and consultants have, thanks to the work of the BMA, now got an offer they are voting on. How in Scotland, the BMA negotiations led to a 12.4 per cent pay rise for junior doctors and an agreement to restore pay over the next three years, and that the Northern Ireland Executive has seen sense, offering immediate talks, and the strike action planned for later this week has been called off.

His speech will also talk about other issues: poor investment in doctors; the financial and workforce crisis facing general practice with record demand on GPs and that this lack of investment has been “An act of vandalism to plunge general practice in such dire straits.” As revealed in a BMA report last week, significant numbers of locum GPs cannot get work, despite practices being unable to cope with patient demand. Professor Banfield will say that: “To have highly qualified doctors turning to other jobs to earn a living, whilst GP practices cannot meet the demands placed on them, is simply bonkers”.

He will tell members of the BMA that the state of general practice around the UK is a mess created by those in power who have aided and abetted the decline of general practice and with it, the morale and goodwill of GPs.

Professor Banfield will also reveal the findings of a survey undertaken by the BMA to examine doctors’ attitudes to raising concerns about patient safety – in other words, whistleblowing. The BMA surveyed doctors about whistleblowing in 2018 and again a few months ago.  The findings are grim; doctors are now more frightened than ever to speak up when they see patient safety issues, or levels of care at risk. They told the BMA their reluctance is born out of the fear that they or their colleagues will be punished, and careers ended if they speak up.

He will say that despite landmark inquiries such as those by Francis and Berwick, a culture of protectionism rather than accountability still holds sway and the survey results show that to be the case.

Professor Banfield will call for the regulation of non-medical managers. He will say that the BMA: “will not stand idly by as employers try to silence those who raise concerns, and it has not. Have we learned from Letby? Let me tell you – I fear not. Pandora’s box is about to be thrown wide open. This is far bigger than the Post Office scandal and the BMA will do all it can to help uncover wrongdoing.”

In his speech he will make clear, those who run NHS organisations must, like doctors, be accountable for their actions and for the decisions that they make and have made. He will say that without reform and regulation, doctors will continue to face appalling victimisation for raising concerns and the BMA will “continue to fight FOR change and AGAINST employers trying to silence those who dare to speak up”.

Professor Banfield will tell doctors: “you have come forward to your union because you are so fearful of your employers. We will create the safe space you have been denied. We owe it to you, and we owe it to our patients”.

The theme of patients at risk continues in the speech, particularly concerning the use of Physician Associates (PAs) in the NHS. Professor Banfield will say that doctors spoke up to highlight just what is really going on, and the BMA highlighted the widespread misuse of MAPs (Medical Associate Professions). He will tell delegates that doctors asked the BMA to fill the void in patient safety and that the Association shouldered the accountability and has taken this fight on as well.

He will reaffirm the BMA’s commitment to bring about change and not to back down, in the call for a halt in any further recruitment of PAs until the medical profession’s concerns are fully addressed.

The gathering in Belfast is the BMA’s annual conference where future policy is set, and is attended by doctors from across the UK. Professor Banfield’s keynote speech opening the conference is just days before a General Election. Just as there will soon be a new government in place, Professor Banfield will say that this is a new era for the British Medical Association: “One where we start reversing the decline of the medical profession. Where we recognise our worth and fight for it; …in an uncertain world, one thing is certain – our patients need doctors.”

* Read more from the BMA on unemployed GPs here.

* Source: British Medical Association