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Nine out of 10 fear NHS cuts as BMA blasts market “experiment”

29 June 2009

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Nine out of 10 people fear NHS services could be cut and waiting times could increase as a result of the recession, according to a BMA survey.

In other findings from the nationwide poll released yesterday (28 June 2009), 85% said they believed the public would face more charges for NHS services, and 80% thought the NHS should prioritise funding for the most important services.

The poll also suggested that a large proportion of the public is prepared to pay more to protect the NHS. When asked if taxes should increase to maintain the growth of NHS funding, four out of 10 individuals (40%) agreed – and three-quarters believe cuts should be made in other government departments to protect NHS funding.

BMA Chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum (pictured) said: “These results show how anxious the public is about the effects of the recession on the health service. No one wants to see any cuts in the public sector but our poll reveals just how much society values their health service.

“While we appreciate that the government needs to steer the country through this difficult economic period, we urge it not to do so at the expense of NHS funding. People always need good quality healthcare and it would be a huge mistake to try and make savings by squeezing the NHS.”

The poll also suggests public concern over the commercialisation of the NHS. While three out of five (59%) support private involvement in the health service, almost half (47%) say there should be no further contracts for commercial companies to provide NHS services and more than half (55%) say the NHS internal market should be abolished.

Dr Meldrum strongly criticised the government over the involvement of the private sector in a keynote address given today (29 June 2009) to the BMA’s annual representative meeting. Dr Meldrum urged Andy Burnham, the new health secretary, to cut out waste and unnecessary expense in the NHS.

He said there had never been a better time to abandon the market reforms in England, calling on Mr Burnham to “end this ludicrous, divisive and expensive experiment of the market in healthcare in England.”

Dr Meldrum also dismissed the idea of moving to an insurance-based system of funding, saying this was not the answer: “There is little evidence that such systems reduce demand; they are certainly more expensive to operate and it cannot be argued that they are fairer than raising money from general taxation.”

Remarking on a recent visit to Australia, where there is a mix of state provision and private insurance, he said: “I passed several people begging in the prosperous streets of Melbourne and Sydney with placards stating that they could not afford their medical bills. I never want to see that on the streets of the UK.”