In a hard-hitting New Year message Dr Brian Keighley, chairman of the British Medical Association in Scotland, said health service cuts will damage patient care in the long term and accused the governments in the UK of playing a “dangerous game” with the profession.
He said: “The NHS cannot operate without the goodwill of doctors and other staff. The Government should remember that and work with us; otherwise the NHS will struggle to get through these difficult times.”
Among his list of complaints is a pay freeze next year and the suspension of the bonus scheme for consultants which can give specialists earning six-figure salaries an extra £31,000 to £74,000.
He said these issues, plus the review of public-sector pensions and an “ever-increasing” workload “being dumped on general practice” are driving the Government and doctors apart at a time when partnership is required.
Scottish health boards have announced plans to axe 4000 jobs this financial year in a bid to balance the books – and their budget settlement next year will be tighter.
This marks a change in fortune from recent years, when funding levels leapt, staff numbers increased and consultants and GPs were given controversial pay deals that absorbed a significant proportion of the extra cash. The need to cut public-sector spending in the wake of the credit crunch has driven this shift, but Dr Keighley said: “The NHS should not bear the responsibility for the failings of the banking system and doctors should not pay the price of poor financial management by governments.
“It is disappointing that, over the course of this year, cuts to the NHS workforce and attacks on doctors’ contracts have been identified by politicians as the way to navigate the NHS through these difficult financial times.
“While this might deliver some savings in the short term, it will have a long term and persistent damaging impact on patient care.”
He said that NHS professionals could easily see where money was being wasted, but doctors were struggling to make their voices heard in their local areas.
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The health service must live within its budget without compromising the highest-quality patient care.
“Already, we have seen excellent examples of health boards taking advantage of service redesign, advances in technology and medical developments to deliver a more efficient service.”
She said the number of NHS staff has increased during the last four years.
The spokeswoman added: “The Scottish Government has called for a review of distinction awards for consultants to bring about a better and more equitable way of rewarding excellence in the NHS.”