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Monday, July 5, 1999 Published at 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK


Doctors sick of ministers' medicine

Doctors are angered by the government's use of the media

The government is letting the health service fall apart and is using underhand media briefings to pass the blame onto NHS workers, doctors have said.

Niall Dickson in Belfast: "Britain's doctors are fed up"
In particular, they attacked Labour's handling of Viagra and NHS rationing, private funding for new hospitals and its preparations for the millennium.

But Secretary of State for Health Frank Dobson has hit back, saying that many doctors would not agree with the British Medical Association (BMA) outburst.

The BMA passed a raft of motions condemning the government's handling of the health service at its Annual Representative Meeting in Belfast.

Dr Ian Bogle: "The reforms are being pushed too quickly"
And BMA chairman Dr Ian Bogle and two of his most senior lieutenants rounded on the government for using "spin tactics" to lower public esteem for doctors.

Open rationing

[ image:  ]
Doctors said that the rationing of health treatments was continuing to harm patients.

Julian Neal, a member of the BMA's GPs committee (GPC), said: "Every day I practise substandard medicine.

"I'm sick to death of working in a health care system where I let my patients down day after day after day."

Dr Wilf Best, of the BMA's junior doctors committee, added: "I'm disgusted that doctors are being asked to make decisions not on the basis of patient need, not on the basis of clinical effectiveness, but on the basis of cost."

Viagra 'fiasco'

The government's handling of the introduction of Viagra was heavily criticised.

Mr Derek Machin, a consultant urologist and deputy chairman of the BMA's central consultants and specialists committee (CCSC), said Viagra was "a sort of penicillin for the penis".

Yet many of the men who could benefit from it would not be allowed because the government said that only men with certain causes for their impotence could get it on the NHS.

"We should not discriminate against patients on the grounds of their condition," he said.

Andrew Green, a GP in Hull, added: "What next? HRT for hot flushes caused by surgery but not by the menopause?"

But while the NHS was struggling to cope, the government was attempting to pass the blame onto doctors, Dr Bogle said.

Supported by Dr John Chisholm - chairman of the GPC - and Dr Peter Hawker - chairman of the CCSC - Dr Bogle said the government was actually using media briefings to make doctors appear uncaring or incompetent.

"There is often a false portrayal of the profession and what they're doing," he said.

Morale among doctors was the lowest it had been since 1992 - when they realised they could not prevent the introduction of the NHS internal market - he said.

But Mr Dobson, in an interview with the BBC, said that the government had consulted fully on its reforms, and found a positive response from doctors in the past.

Frank Dobson responds to the BMA criticisms
He said: "At this time last year the relevant people at the BMA voted by three to one to introduce Primary Care Groups and to introduce them at the rate they are being introduced.

"To say that some of the things he (Dr Bogle) has been saying represent the views of the whole profession is a touch of exaggeration I think."

Policy problems

Dr Hawker said that while the BMA supported the general direction of government policy, it had definite problems with how reforms were implemented.

And Dr Chisholm said the government's proud boasts of additional funding reinvigorating the NHS were not supported by what doctors saw each day.

"You only have to look at last year's winter crisis, you only have to look at Viagra to see there isn't money on the ground.

"You can see the frustration when doctors look around and see we have the lowest number of doctors per person in Europe."

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