Acting British Medical Association head Dr Sam Everington has called on incoming Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make a fresh start with doctors and to avoid “future agonies” for the National Health Service.

Addressing the BMA’s annual conference in Torquay yesterday, he said that doctors in the NHS currently felt “under attack” and he slammed the government for focusing purely on monetary value, claiming: “Vocation, dedication and lifetime commitment to patients and the NHS has little value in this new world – we are just financial commodities.”

In a stark warning to Brown, Everington said that the government has “has lost support from many of the 1.3 million people who work for your NHS. Listen to us not because we are doctors but because we have given a lifetime of service to patients in the NHS – we are their champions.”

Reform under fire

Many components of the government’s healthcare reform programme – such as the controversial and now dumped Medical Training Application Service for junior doctors and the new IT system - have come under fire from the BMA.

With regard to the MTAS “fiasco,” Everington laid the blame with government and the “designers of the system who didn’t listen to the BMA warnings,” and he called for Brown to give junior doctors “back their futures in the NHS.” And commenting on the IT programme, he said: “Estimated costs of upward of £20 billion, interminable delays, the chaotic shambles that is Choose and Book, growing concerns about patient confidentiality and security – it’s a wonderful exercise in how not to do things.”

Earlier this month, Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA’s consultants’ committee, condemned the substantial changes the NHS has had to cope with over the last 12 months in the name of reform and claimed that significant challenges still lie ahead. “The avalanches of unnecessary bureaucracy, the dogma-driven rush to privatise the NHS, the corruptive aspects of the internal market - no wonder there is anger and despair. But the values that we hold dear, that are the essence of general practice, remain constant and unchanging," he said.

And, in his concluding remarks yesterday, Everington also reiterated his belief in the NHS, but added that doctors and managers are “wondering whether it can survive with its present ethos beyond 2008… Everything we want to achieve in the next year will depend on us working and fighting together for a better future for our doctors and patients.”

The way forward?

Last month, the BMA unveiled its proposals for the future of the NHS in a 24-recommendation discussion paper A rational way forward for the NHS in England.

The Association’s plans include setting up an independent board to take over the day-to-day running of the NHS and hence remove politics from the equation. And the public seems to agree: research by Ipsos MORI for the NHS Confederation has revealed that seven out of 10 members of the public surveyed felt that politicians should indeed hand over control of the Service.

Although Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt recently rejected the independent proposal, on grounds that, at four times the size of the Cuban economy, the NHS is just too big to be run by a single board, Conservative leader David Cameron has thrown his support behind the move, and where Brown stand on the issue as yet remains unclear.