The British Medical Association has called for continued investment in the National Health Service and has warned against the dangers of a ‘slash and burn’ cull of staff and services in a bid to save money.

The Association has this week launched its UK General Election manifesto - Standing up for Doctors, Standing up for Health - calling on all political parties to acknowledge the value of the NHS, which, it stresses, “provides better value for money than any comparable healthcare system in the world”, and to commit to the long-term sustainability of the service.

The NHS is currently facing one the toughest challenges since its inception, having to weather a period of economic downturn and tighter budget constraints at a time when demand on its services is increasing.

But Dr Hamish Meldrum, Chairman of Council at the BMA, argues that “even during a time of financial stringency, continued investment in the NHS is vital”, and he warns that “a slash and burn response to the need for savings would be dangerous and short-sighted, risking long-term damage to the infrastructure of the health service”.

In another attack on the use of private providers to fill gaps in the service, the manifesto claims efficiency savings could be delivered if the NHS in “were restored as a publicly provided service”, and it says that instead of being directed at frontline services the axe must fall on “expensive market-based policies, such as the overuse of private management consultants, the Private Finance Initiative and Independent Sector Treatment Centres”.

“When the drivers are profits, it has to be asked whether patients’ interests are really being served, and value for money being achieved,” Meldrum said, and argued that “creating a market means high transactional costs and bureaucracy, with money that could be spent on patient care going to private companies and shareholders”.

Anti-commercialisation
The Association has long been leading the charge against private sector involvement in the NHS, but supporters of the strategy maintain that introducing a more competitive element to healthcare can only help to boost the quality of services.

And a spokesperson for the Department of Health recently told PharmaTimes UK News that, “thanks to PFI, we have the biggest hospital building programme in the history of the NHS, opening the 100th scheme in October last year,” and that the ISTC programme has “helped improve health services for patients, reduce waiting times and improve patient choice”.