THE NHS “is crumbling and patients are being failed”, according to the new leader of the BMA in Scotland.
Dr Iain Kennedy, a GP based in Inverness who took over as chair of the trade union earlier this month, said doctors are more worried now than they have ever been about a looming winter crisis.
He said: “We’ve just come out of summer and our hospitals are full. Our A&Es have huge waiting times; the waiting times in outpatients are massive across just about every speciality.
“The NHS is crumbling and patients are being failed, and doctors are beginning to wonder if this is the sort of service they want to work in.”
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Dr Kennedy said some junior doctors, who earn around £27,500 a year “making life or death decisions”, are now quitting medicine within one or two years of training for better paid jobs in finance, and warned that general practice in particular is “in a very precarious position”.
He said: “We already have practices in Scotland collapsing, particularly up in my own area in the Highlands.
“Practices are fighting over the same, ever-dwindling pool of doctors, so we’re seeing a lot of salaried GPs moving around different practices as they get poached.
“It’s a really grim situation and I don’t think the public is aware of just how bad it is.
“There are many practices up in the north-west coast of Scotland that have no GPs. The biggest practice in the Highlands – Alness and Invergordon [Medical Group] – is completely run by locums.
“When I started my training in the Highlands in the late 1990s there were 10 GP partners there.”
Dr Kennedy said his own group of four GP practices has lost doctors to South Africa and New Zealand with more on the verge of retirement, but has been unable to find replacements.
It comes as Dr Kennedy prepares to chair a meeting on October 6 with BMA Scotland representatives on potential industrial action.
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A consultation has already indicated that eight in 10 medics in Scotland support taking some form of action to protest against the 4.5 per cent pay award, but it would be up to each individual branch – representing junior doctors, consultants, GPs, and specialists – whether to ballot their members.
In England – where junior doctors have been awarded a lower uplift of just 2% – the BMA is already preparing to ballot unless the UK Government agrees to restore salaries in real terms to 2008/9 levels.
Dr Kennedy said there was a “groundswell of opinion looking for action on pay” after more than a decade of sub-inflation salary hikes which has come against a backdrop of spiralling NHS workloads, growing vacancies, and the unresolved issues of huge pension tax bills which are spurring senior clinicians to retire early – putting efforts to clear waiting list backlogs in jeopardy.
“Even the shier doctors who don’t like to talk about money, privately are very pleased – from what I’m hearing – about the angrier more vocal group of doctors from the junior ranks,” said Dr Kennedy.
“I think we will see a call for industrial action in England and I think there will be a reaction to that in Scotland.
“What I’m hoping is that the Cabinet Secretary [Humza Yousaf] will avert any action before it’s necessary by doing the right thing, which is to revise the pay award for doctors in Scotland.
“We simply haven’t been planning adequate workforce numbers to cope with the changing demographics in Scotland, and patients are suffering as a result of that.
“We need far more doctors, but we need to stop them retiring first. We’ve got to retain them before we recruit them, and the way you do that is by sorting out pay, pensions, and working conditions.”
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The 4.5% pay award, backdated to April 1, was accepted by the Scottish Government in July following the recommendation of the UK’s Doctors and Dentists Pay Review Body (DDRB).
Humza Yousaf said it would mean that Scotland’s senior medical staff “continue to be the best paid in the UK”, coming on top of a 3% uplift last year.
The Scottish Government said the NHS workforce has grown by over 22% since 2006, to a record high of nearly 156,000.
New national guidelines agreed in August also make it easier for retiring NHS staff to return to work part-time while drawing on their pension.
Mr Yousaf said the policy will “help health boards continue to strengthen the workforce”.