Patients' trust in their doctor "to tell the truth" is vital to the health service and must not be undermined by the government's reforms to the NHS in England, the BMA Chairman has warned today (27 June 2011).
Dr Hamish Meldrum (pictured) said this trust was crucial in the "tough times head" as he set out the key challenges for the NHS in his opening speech to the BMA's annual conference.
Dr Meldrum said the NHS is in the grip of its greatest financial challenge: "The challenge of ever-increasing demand, finite resources and the most difficult financial situation the NHS – in all four nations – the biggest it has ever faced in its 63 years," he said.
An Ipsos MORI poll conducted this month suggests that doctors are the most trusted profession, with 88% of the public saying they trust their doctor to tell them the truth.
Pointing to the results of this survey, Dr Meldrum warned: "There is a danger that this trust could be put at risk by some of the government's plans."
Talking of the quality premium – a bonus paid to clinical commissioning groups for cost-effective commissioning, to be ploughed back into healthcare provision – Dr Meldrum said: "We're all in favour of GPs doing the best to commission services well and cost-effectively in these difficult circumstances.
"But if patients even suspected that their GP might be rewarded for how well they do financially in terms of commissioning – the suggestion that 'you might not be referring for me,' or 'you might not be prescribing for me because actually that will mean money in your pocket' – that would seriously damage the trust".
Dr Meldrum insisted that "the only way the NHS can come through [these difficult financial times] is for there to be a real and shared commitment between all of us who have a stake in its future – a commitment to build trust: between and among governments, staff, employers, patients and the public."
He said: "The government has made some positive moves on NHS reform with the listening exercise – but that's not enough, we need to build on that, not throw it away with short-term cost-cutting of frontline care."
The BMA will continue its battle against the divisive features of the healthcare market in England, said Dr Meldrum. "Doctors are not afraid of competition – in fact, they thrive on it. They want to know that they are working as well, if not better than their colleagues and they need fair, effective and evidence-based data on health outcomes to provide them with that information.
"But that is quite different from the unfettered, free market of the industrial world, because the NHS must never be like that – you only have to look across the Atlantic to see why, and why we will continue to resist all attempts to make it like that."