Page last updated at 10:20 GMT, Monday, 29 June 2009 11:20 UK

NHS finances 'must not be raided'

By Nick Triggle
Health reporter, BBC News

Patient in hospital
Doctors worry that the recession will affect health care provision

The NHS must not be raided to bail out the mess created by bankers and politicians, the leader of the UK's medical workforce says.

British Medical Association chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum said with a £100bn budget the NHS could face cuts to plug the gaps in the nation's finances.

He said the answer was not to cut back on traditional NHS services but to end the involvement of the private sector.

The government said the NHS was still a priority for funding.

We are not going to allow doctors to be the scapegoats for the failures of the politicians or the bankers
Dr Hamish Meldrum
British Medical Association

But argued that doctors were wrong to call for an end to private sector involvement.

Despite his anger over the use of the market-based reforms, Dr Meldrum warned his members gathering in Liverpool for the union's annual conference not to vote for industrial action.

One of the major motions on the first day of the four-day meeting of doctors is a call for a day of industrial action.

But with the health service battling against the flu pandemic and jobs being lost across the economy, Dr Meldrum said now was not the time to take such drastic action.

He said there was nothing that "warranted even a consideration of industrial action".

NHS 'at risk'

However, Dr Meldrum still went on to warn the government that its policies were putting the future of the health service at risk.

He said moves to create polyclinics and PFI schemes, which use private money to build hospitals, were draining the health service in England of resources and fragmenting care.

While other parts of the UK have experimented with getting the private sector involved in the NHS, it has not be done on the scale that it has in England.

Dr Meldrum said: "End this ludicrous, divisive and expensive experiment of the market in healthcare in England."

The NHS has its funding guaranteed until 2011, but many experts predict it will face a freeze or even fall in budget after that.

Mr Meldrum said: "The NHS is facing some of the biggest and most serious challenges ever.

"We need to do everything possible to protect the healthcare budget and not concede that swingeing cuts are either inevitable or necessary.

"While we should be realistic and not expect inflation-busting pay rises and an infinite expansion in medical power, I can assure you that we are not going to allow doctors to be the scapegoats for the failures of the politicians or the bankers."

He spoke out after a BMA poll of 1,000 people showed nine in 10 were worried that services were going to be cut because of the recession.

Government response

But a Department of Health spokeswoman said despite the recession the NHS budget was still increasing until 2011.

"It is for NHS organisations to use this opportunity to identify efficiency savings so we can continue delivering high quality care for every patient."

After that she said the NHS would "always be a priority for investment".

And she added the use of the private sector was aimed at improving services.

"Where independent sector providers offer high quality patient care, innovation, good value for money and meet local needs, we will continue to bring them in to work as part of the family of NHS providers.

"Alongside the hard work of staff and in every organisation, the independent sector has played an integral part in our success in delivering dramatic falls in waiting times for patients."

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