The NHS waiting list, which stands at a record seven million, is a “national scandal”, the head of the doctors’ union has said.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Dr Philip Banfield, the chairman of the British Medical Association, said that the health service now had half the beds for patients it had 30 years ago and described the situation for frontline staff as “brutal”.
“Our members have never seen so much stress, so much moral injury from not being able to undertake the care that they’re so desperate to give,” he said.
“This has arisen because we just don’t have enough beds for hospital needs. Part of that is not being able to discharge people from hospital and that creates a kind of log-jam. But this is years and years of running down the number of beds.
“What the pandemic has done is aggravate a situation that was deteriorating, and we have been highlighting for ten years or more so if you look at the waiting list the figures had gone from 2.6 to 4.4 million before the pandemic. It has gone over seven million now. This is an absolute national scandal.”
His comments come after the Royal College of Nursing said twice as many nurses were preparing to go on strike in February if government talks over pay remain at a stalemate.
The government has insisted nurses have been offered a “fair” pay deal and it has accepted the recommendations of the independent pay review body “in full”.
Mark Harper, the transport secretary, was pushed on the issue by Sophy Ridge on Sky News this morning, who pointed to documents showing the government set its budget for pay before hearing from the body, warning them any higher offer could increase inflation.
He denied the government set the parameters for pay increases, adding: “We’ve made some assumptions, but we’ll look at what the independent pay body says.”
Dr Banfield said that the backlog at GPs’ surgeries and lack of beds was pushing people to make conscious decisions not to seek medical treatment when they need it because they do not want to spend hours on a hospital trolley.
Illustrating the extent of the problems facing the NHS, Dr Banfield revealed that his wife, herself a GP, had recently spent 12 hours on a trolley in A&E.
“She thought she was going to die alone because I wasn’t around at the time,” he said.
“This is the kind of trauma that is being suffered by patients. And the staff could not be trying harder, there is no fault on the staff.
“I don’t know how on earth emergency department staff keep going, we do know it’s affecting their mental health and causing burnout.”
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Discussing whether doctors would join nurses and ambulance workers on the picket lines, Dr Banfield said it was “not inevitable”, but they were balloting members and they needed to find a resolution with the government.
“It doesn’t make sense to make people sicker, and we know the country is getting sicker as a whole,” he said. “Let’s get people back into work then they can pay their taxes
“For me. it’s a very straightforward market economics argument. Doctors are leaving the NHS. They’ve got choice, these are bright young graduates; their entry pay is just over £14 an hour. Full pay restoration for them means £18 an hour.
“We have to decide as a country what the price is for the expertise of junior doctors. Junior doctors are not junior by any means, these are skilled, highly trained professionals.
“If we are having a dialogue there is always the possibility of averting industrial action. No doctor wants to go on strike, no nurse wants to go on strike. We feel that we’re being backed into it.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “The health and social care secretary has been clear that supporting and retaining the NHS workforce is one of his key priorities, and that includes our hardworking junior doctors.
“Our multi-year pay deal with the British Medical Association is increasing junior doctor’s pay by a cumulative 8.2% by March 2023. We have also invested an additional £90 million to provide the most experienced junior doctors with higher pay, increased allowances for those working the most frequently at weekends, and increased rates of pay for night shifts.
“There are record numbers of staff working in the NHS, and we are committed to publishing a comprehensive workforce strategy next year.”