Labour has betrayed us, say doctors

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THE PRIME Minister was accused yesterday of "alienating the whole health profession". Doctors at the British Medical Association's annual conference in Belfast said they felt betrayed by a Labour Government that has promised much but delivered little.

Leaders of the association accused the Government of running a deliberate campaign to undermine the profession with a series of leaks and off-the- record briefings on poor practice. Ian Bogle, giving his first conference speech as chairman of the BMA, declared: "Congratulations Mr Blair, you have managed to alienate the whole profession."

Dr Bogle said the pace of change in the National Health Service was "frightening" and was imposing huge pressures. Despite a generous financial settlement this year, the extra money was not being felt on the ground. The Government had refused to improve junior doctors' out-of-hours pay or reward consultants for their increased workload. The BMA had been excluded from plans to introduce walk-in clinics, providing immediate GP care to anyone, which threatened to undermine general practice.

"An administration that has turned media manipulation into an art form clearly favours spin-doctoring and sound bites over consultation and discussion ... we don't want spin with a grin. We don't want smile with guile," Dr Bogle said.

His comments were reinforced by doctors who queued up to voice their discontent. Kate Adams, a junior doctor who qualified last year, was the first to set out the failings of the NHS. She described how a patient with advanced bowel cancer collapsed and had to be admitted to hospital as an emergency after waiting six weeks for an investigation.

But even as delegates spoke, the Department of Health issued a rebuttal. In a statement it said all the changes proposed had been introduced in consultation with the BMA. "We are making massive changes to the NHS and what we are seeing at the moment is the difficulty of introducing change in any large organisation." It added that more than 100 bids from local doctors and nurses had been received to run the first 20 walk-in centres.

The despair felt by many doctors was summed up by Julian Neal, a Portsmouth GP, who described having to explain to the son of a 52-year- old woman who had been admitted three times to hospital with heart problems why she had to wait nine months for surgery. "How many times do I have to say sorry, I can't do anything about this?... I am sick to death of working in a healthcare system where we let patients down day after day," Dr Neal said.

The meeting of 550 representatives of 120,000 doctors voted overwhelmingly for motions condemning inequalities in the NHS and demanding that rationing decisions be based on an accurate assessment of patients' needs and be subject to public debate.