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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 May 2006, 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK
Archbishop fears for patient care
Archbishop of Canterbury
The Archbishop used examples of prayer from around the world
The Archbishop of Canterbury has warned NHS cuts could compromise the quality of patient care.

Dr Rowan Williams said the NHS must respect patients' individual needs.

He warned "short-term economics" threatened to undermine that basic right, and could put vulnerable patients at particular risk.

Dr Williams made his comments in a sermon at Westminster Abbey for the annual Florence Nightingale Commemoration.

A target-obsessed NHS, managed with an eye to brisk traffic through its beds and reduction of expense, doesn't feel a very good place in which to have a reasoned and balanced discussion of assisted dying
Dr Rowan Williams

He told representatives of the nursing profession gathered for the service there were already concerns that the budget-driven approach of some trusts was having a detrimental effect both on staff and patients.

He said: "NHS Trusts vary enormously; but there are enough whose style of management seems driven by short-term economics to give real concern.

"Anecdotes abound of senior and responsible people in hospitals being given ridiculously short notice of economies to be achieved."

'Distortion'

Dr Williams said that highlighting the overall numbers employed in the NHS did not deal adequately with the fact of plain local insecurity in this or that particular institution.

He questioned whether the increased budgetary role of local medical practices in the running of hospitals would do anything to address the problem.

"If nurses and other staff are not treated with dignity, what help do they have in treating patients with dignity?"

Dr Williams said a culture had developed in the NHS over recent decades in which accountability and accountancy had "become seriously confused".

He said "false and destructive models" for meeting targets had distorted clinical practice.

Assisted dying

As a result he feared for vulnerable patients, such as the terminally ill.

"A target-obsessed NHS, managed with an eye to brisk traffic through its beds and reduction of expense, doesn't feel a very good place in which to have a reasoned and balanced discussion of assisted dying.

"Once we let go of the principle that everyone deserves care and respect, we are in uncharted territory.

"If there is ever what looks like a short-cut in dealing with the terminally ill or even the outstandingly inconvenient, resource-intensive patient, we have to face the possibility of any number of subtle pressures that may be at work in favour of assisted dying, however little the proponents of this may want it or approve it."

Dr Williams said that the challenge was not simply about getting enough resources, but keeping sight of what the funding was intended to provide.

He said the health system must treat its own professionals with dignity, and not assume that material and economic goals were all that counted.

The Department of Health issued a statement in which it said targets helped to save lives.

"Last year, the NHS treated more people, faster and better than ever before - and saved more lives than ever before."

"Dignity, respect and putting patients at the heart of all decisions are at the centre of all of our policies, so we agree with much of what the Archbishop has said."


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