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National politics

The doctors blow it

No more games

The doctor’s union, the BMA, is spending some £100,000s if not millions of Pounds on its No more games campaign. It was kicked off last week with posters. I was only dimly aware of it until one of their paid for ads was pushed into my face by Twitter at doctors’ expense.

There are three planks to the BMA’s campaign. The first is public health. It advocates minimum pricing of alcohol, legalizing the weed vape pen and plain packages for cigarettes. Both of these are quite attractive policies in some ways but they are hard for politicians to push through. The second plank is protecting funding and the third is keeping the private sector out of the NHS.

This is hugely disappointing. The doctors fail to mention quality of patient outcomes and innovation. You might hope that the representatives of the scientists, the doctors that care for us, might have some ambition to ferociously drive towards higher quality and new ways of doing things, but no. They are spending many £100,000s of their members’ money to basically ask for more cash and keep things the same. Maybe they want NHS coal to be dug in NHS mines to fire NHS blast furnaces to make NHS steel for NHS scalpels? They may as well ask the world to stop turning.

When the BMA talks about funding it can’t bring itself to acknowledge Simon Stevens’, the new chief executive of NHS England’s, NHS Five Year Forward View. All the three main political parties are very near to being on the same page as Stevens so it is bizarre indeed that the doctors are not. The Labour government kicked off the £20 billion Nicholson savings in 2009 and the Coalition has presided over their roll out. Stevens accepts that another £22 billion of savings are required even if whoever is in government agrees to find £8 billion of new money which itself is a huge sum to find. The Stevens prescription sees the need for further restraint hand in hand with massive change and innovation. It seems that doctors’ real motive is not cross party agreement, which may well follow Stevens’ impressive lead, but their own lack of appetite for change and willingness to lead the NHS through continuing change.

The video of Dr Mark Porter, BMA council chair, using the phrase “petty point scoring” will come to be regretted by many doctors I suspect. The NHS consumes 10% of GDP and about 1/6th of all government expenditure. The idea that it will not be at the centre of political debate is ridiculous. If doctors want health to be out of politics they need to get off the public payroll. The political class in the form of Messrs Straw and Rifkind have ably demonstrated their shortcomings today but with this campaign so does the medical profession.

The doctors had a chance to spend their money on leading and setting the terms of the debate. Instead we have an expensive whine.