NHS told to avoid 'slash and burn cuts'

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Media captionThe head of the British Medical Association, Hamish Meldrum says there are difficult decisions to be made

NHS chiefs are at risk of making "slash and burn" cuts to services in a drive to save money, doctors say.

Medics attending the British Medical Association's annual conference voiced concerns the cuts were being rushed through too quickly and without care.

They highlighted staff shortages and restrictions being placed on so-called "low priority" treatments such as IVF.

The NHS Confederation, which represents health managers, said any cost-saving measures must be well-thought through.

In his opening address to the union's conference in Cardiff, Dr Meldrum said the NHS was "in the grip of its greatest financial challenge".

"There is a huge difference between adapt and change and slash and burn, between carefully planned reorganisations and knee-jerk closures and redundancies, between partnership working among health professionals, managers and patients and imposed top-down, politically-motivated diktat."


Health budgets have been largely protected by ministers across the UK, although once inflation and the impact of factors like the ageing population and cost of new drugs are taken into account, significant savings are having to be made.

During the debates on Monday delegates voiced concerns about signs waiting times rising, staff shortages, cuts to services and tighter restrictions on a range of treatments.

In recent months, cases have been highlighted where local health managers have restricted access to everything from treatment for varicose veins and tonsillectomies to obesity surgery and IVF.

Dr Chaand Nagpaul, a GP from north London, said most doctors would accept that the NHS cannot do everything but said restrictions needed to be done with "fairness and consistency" to avoid a postcode lottery.

Public health specialist Dr Lucy-Jane Davis pointed out that it was not just the direct cuts to the NHS that were harming the health and well-being of people.

She said reductions in services such as Sure Start centres and less support for carers were having a profound effect too.

"The scale and speed of cuts will hurt the most vulnerable," she added.

Psychiatrist Robin Arnold, from Bristol, said his patients had the "double whammy" of experiencing the fall-out of cuts to both NHS and local authority budgets.

He said one of the problems was that managers had started cutting too quickly by trying to make the bulk of the savings in a year, when they had been given five.

Mike Farrar, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: "NHS leaders must avoid such short-term tactics if they are to achieve effective change without compromising patient care.

"Reforming the system so that it is fit for the future will require some difficult decisions. It is essential that NHS leaders and clinical staff work together to draw up the best solutions."

A spokesman for the Department of Health added: "We agree with the BMA that the NHS should not adopt a slash and burn approach.

"We are not investing an extra £11.5 billion in the NHS so that services can be cut.

"We have confidence that through improving innovation, prevention and productivity the NHS will continue to be able to improve quality and meet rising demands."

NHS chiefs are at risk of making "slash and burn" cuts to services in a drive to save money, doctors say.

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