Health secretary Andrew Lansley visiting the Chelsea and Westminster hospital emergency department in London. Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA
Doctors are considering passing a vote of no confidence in the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, amid mounting anger over his plans to radically restructure the NHS.
The British Medical Association (BMA) is preparing to debate a series of motions which are highly critical of Lansley and his policies at an emergency general meeting next week on the proposed shakeup.
One motion which is listed for definite discussion, submitted by the BMA’s London regional council – its biggest branch – seeks a vote of no confidence in Lansley. Another, from doctors in Buckinghamshire, says such a move is appropriate because Lansley has reneged on a pre-election promise not to reorganise the NHS, “demonstrated his desire to destroy the public’s trust in their GPs” and pursued policies despite a lack of evidence that they will improve either patient care or the NHS’s pressurised finances.
Another motion, from Birmingham medics, even proposes that next week’s BMA special representative meeting (SRM) “would not buy a used car off someone who had trumpeted no ‘top-down’ reorganisation of the NHS prior to being elected and then proceeds to introduce a massive and clearly long-planned reorganisation of the NHS after being elected”.
Doctors are also accusing Lansley of deliberately distorting the NHS’s record as a ploy to justify restructuring the service in England. A series of strongly worded motions criticise “the government’s use of misleading and inaccurate information to denigrate the NHS” and the “cynical and misleading use of statistics by Andrew Lansley and colleagues to denigrate the achievements of the NHS over recent years”. Motions from other branches claim that “this wilful misrepresentation of the achievements of the NHS shows contempt for both the public and for health professionals” and accuse Lansley of ignoring recent successes, such as record patient satisfaction levels and fewer deaths from heart attacks and cancer.
At the SRM – the BMA’s first since 1992 – doctors will also urge the BMA to reject the whole of the health and social care bill, and drop its current policy of “critical engagement” with Lansley. That has seen the BMA seek, largely unsuccessfully, to amend key aspects of the bill while not opposing its central tenets. One motion calls on the BMA “to oppose the bill in its entirety, publicise and oppose the damaging elements of the bill [and] consider what form of action should be taken by the medical profession”.
Another calls for a referendum to test support for the government’s plans, which it says should be withdrawn unless there is clear public support, which opinion polls suggest does not exist.
Dr Kevin O’Kane, chairman of the BMA’s London region, which represents 34,000 doctors, said: “There’s an enormous groundswell of opinion among doctors from all around the country that they lack confidence in the secretary of state for health.
“The SRM is not a kneejerk response to the government’s proposed legislation. The BMA has until now attempted to have dialogue with the health secretary since he released his NHS reform white paper last summer. But unfortunately Andrew Lansley has totally ignored our concerns and has behaved in a high-handed fashion with the concerns of the BMA, other health unions, the medical royal colleges, patients’ groups and health thinktanks.
“Mr Lansley seems determined to plough his very lonely furrow, which will inevitably lead to the breakup of our NHS. Under the circumstances I will be very surprised if we find many doctors who have confidence in his proposals or his manner of pursuing them. Doctors are disappointed and frustrated at being sidelined by the government, and deeply concerned for the future of the NHS.”
In January the BMA chairman, Dr Hamish Meldrum, publicly voiced his frustration that, despite the BMA making detailed and constructive criticisms of the bill in response to the Department of Health, Lansley did not respond directly to the doctors’ criticisms. A DH spokesman would only say: “We are absolutely committed to the future of the NHS. We hope to continue to work closely with the BMA and all other health professionals to cut bureaucracy and give doctors the power and freedom to make the service more responsive to patient needs.”
DH sources cited the more than 5,000 GP practices across England which have agreed to join “pathfinder” consortiums of GPs, who will take control of £80bn in annual spending on treatments from April 2013, as evidence that many are already planning how to use the new arrangements to improve patient care.
Sources : Guardian-Health