The government is deliberately underfunding the NHS in an attempt to speed up its plans to privatise the health service, senior doctors have said.
Members of the British Medical Association (BMA) accused Theresa May and Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, of “consciously” creating a crisis in NHS hospitals while scapegoating doctors “to distract the public from an underfunded service under severe and intense strain”.
This is “in order to accelerate its transformation plans for private sector takeover of healthcare in England”, said the motion passed by representatives at the union’s annual representative meeting in Bournemouth.
Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the incoming BMA chair, said the Government’s policy is “deliberate and it does need to be challenged”.
“The Government speaks of new investment but in the same breath asks us to make £3 of efficiency savings for every £1 spent,” he said, adding: “In the name of safety and quality, austerity and savage cuts have to stop.”
The Department of Health rejected the claims, saying Government funding for the NHS was at record levels and the motion approved by the BMA “sadly has no relationship with reality”.
Doctors voted in favour of the motion as it was revealed the Government is pushing forward with plans to sell off an NHS staffing agency that employs more than 90,000 people, saving the health service £70m a year.
The agency, NHS Professionals, supplies staff more cheaply than private firms. It is a private limited company owned by the Department of Health.
Last winter was the worst on record for the health service, with reports of patients waiting for hours on trolleys in overstretched A&E departments around the country.
Dr Nagpaul, currently chair of the organisation’s GP committee, said the general election was a “wake-up call” and called Ms May’s failure to enlarge her majority a public rejection of austerity.
“We are a rich nation, we are a civilised society, the public deserve a safe, civilised health service. We cannot and must not accept anything less,” he said.
“Those that provide care are scapegoated, such as the Prime Minister’s shameless attempt this year to blame GPs for hospital winter pressures.”
However some other doctors, including current BMA council chair Dr Mark Porter, disagreed with the motion, saying the difficulties faced by the health service are a result of bad organisation rather than a deliberate attempt to pave the way for further privatisation.
Dr Grant Ingrams, a GP, told the meeting the current state of the NHS is not due to “political conspiracy, but is due to political cock-ups”, with Dr Porter suggesting government “incompetence” was behind recent failings.
Opening the meeting, Dr Porter warned patients are being “belittled and bewildered” as access to NHS care is worsening.
A survey conducted by the BMA ahead of the conference found that 82 per cent of people are worried about the future of the NHS, and three in five said they expect the NHS to get worse in the coming years.
Three quarters of those surveyed said they thought the number of services on offer will be reduced and 83 per cent said they believed that waiting times would increase.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “While of course there are pressures on the front line, the Government has invested record funding in the NHS. Thanks to the hard work of staff, public satisfaction is now the highest it has been in all but three of the last 20 years.”
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