In the 1980s the doctors’ trade union, the British Medical Association, ran a successful campaign to discredit the Thatcher Government’s health reforms.
Under a picture of the then Health Secretary Ken Clarke, they posed the question: ‘What do you call a man who ignores doctors’ advice?’ That question is still valid today, but the answer is now the voting public.
The medical profession is broadly agreed that the best way to treat patients with life-threatening conditions is in large specialised units with expert consultants available around the clock. They may take longer to get to, be harder for families to visit, but statistically they improve your chances of leaving that hospital alive. They are also cheaper.
Yet every time a local emergency department is threatened with closure, communities react with outrage. Today’s warning by Sir David Nicholson about the consequences of such opposition is therefore timely. He wants the public to understand clearly that there are choices involved.
With a growing elderly population, greater survival rates and new technology, the pressures on NHS budgets are greater than ever before. He and Sir Bruce Keogh say that “reconfigurations” are not only the best way to save money but also to improve patient care. It may not be popular – but it is good advice.