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14 Jul 2017

The United Kingdom in late June was dominated by headlines about Brexit, terror attacks, and the Grenfell Tower fire.

When AMA President Dr Michael Gannon arrived in Bournemouth for the British Medical Association (BMA) Annual Representatives Meeting (ARM), he discovered that the BMA was responding to the major events rocking the British population and the political landscape.

These national concerns, which dramatically affect UK doctors and patients and the National Health Service (NHS), were put into perspective in the final speech to the BMA of outgoing Chair Dr Mark Porter (pictured).

Condemning the tragic terror incidents in Manchester and London, Dr Porter praised the efforts of doctors, nurses, and emergency service workers.

“They ran towards danger, as others were urged to run for it,” Dr Porter said.

“They responded to suffering with compassion and unity.

“And they distilled years of experience into the vital minutes that mattered for their patients.

“I am so proud to work alongside them in the health service. I want to thank them on behalf of the whole profession.”

Turning his attention to the recent close-run UK election and the electoral impact of health policy, Dr Porter delivered a blistering attack on Government neglect of the NHS.

“We still have one of the best healthcare systems in the world. It treats more patients than ever before, and deploys treatments of which I could only have dreamt when I qualified as a doctor,” Dr Porter said.

“But after years of underinvestment, with a growing ageing population, and despite the extraordinary dedication of its staff, it is failing too many people, too often.

“So how can Ministers have let this come about?

“It is because we have a health service that they view from high windows in Whitehall, or on a sanitised photo opportunity, but which patients all too often see from a trolley rather closer to the ground.

“I’d like those Ministers to imagine, just for a moment, what it’s like to be on one of those trolleys. To be one of those patients who hoped their needs would be met, no matter who they are or where they live.”

Hard hitting stuff. But Dr Porter was just warming up. He then turned his focus to Brexit.

“Colleagues, closing down our borders would close down our health service,” he said.

“We give politicians our vote and our trust. It’s way past time for them to step up.

“They need to take responsibility, not just for how the NHS is funded but for those who staff it. Like the 10,000 NHS doctors who qualified in another European country.

“Many came here as students. They wanted to give their working lives to the health service. They were drawn by the values of the NHS and now embody those values. But they have been left with fundamental worries and doubts about their employment rights and long-term future in this country.

“Ensuring their rights, which has been the BMA”s consistent call since the [Brexit] referendum, will rightly be a priority in negotiations but the Government’s fine words need to be turned into actions.

“Treating these doctors with justice and respect is not a matter of charity; it is a matter of practical necessity and of moral obligation. We simply wouldn’t have a health service without them. And even if we did, I wouldn’t want to work in it.”

Dr Porter also highlighted the unique impacts that Brexit would have in Northern Ireland, where health services currently operate efficiently in a cross-border model with the Republic of Ireland.

The impact on medical students and young doctors has been duly noted and advocated by the BMA.

Dr Porter spoke with passion and purpose about his five years as BMA Chair, and equally passionately about the contemporary issues affecting the medical profession and the NHS. He received a long and loud standing ovation.

All the while, the fallout – personal, societal, political – of the human tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire ran as an undercurrent to the ARM – just as it did with the whole UK community.

JOHN FLANNERY


Published: 14 Jul 2017