Wes Streeting Ramps Up War Of Words With Health Union In Spat Over NHS Reform

The shadow health secretary accused the British Medical Association of 'spoiling for a fight' and 'doing doctors a disservice'.
The BMA said Streeting's comments over the weekend were "incredibly disappointing".
The BMA said Streeting's comments over the weekend were "incredibly disappointing".

Labour’s Wes Streeting has accused a health union of “doing doctors a disservice” as he doubled down on his fight with the health union.

The shadow health secretary said he couldn’t understand why the British Medical Association (BMA), which represents doctors and medical students, “spoils for a fight” with the Labour Party over its plans to improve patient care.

The fresh comments come after Streeting rebuked the BMA in an interview with the Daily Telegraph over the weekend, and subsequent comments in which he said he had been “treated like a heretic” over his ideas to improve the NHS.

Asked about the “back and forth” with the union on LBC, Streeting told presenter Shelagh Fogarty: “We announced the biggest expansion of NHS staff in history — so we would double the number of medical school places, increase nursing and midwifery clinical training places by 10,000, 5000 more health visitors, doubling the number of district nurses.

“We’ll pay for that by abolishing the non-dom status, so we’ve shown how we pay for it so people can have confidence we’ll be able to do it.

“One of the things I’ve said is that as we’re putting more staff in, we’ve got to see improvements in standards for patients, and on a number of occasions now, the British Medical Association have attacked Labour on that front.”

He continued: “There was one story we put out that attacked the Conservatives for cutting the number of GPs, and the BMA put out a statement which I thought attacked Labour, which I just thought completely missed the point,

“I can’t quite understand why the BMA spoils for a fight in this way.

“I’ve been clear — we’re not going to be pushed around by the BMA.”

Streeting made the comments as the NHS comes under great pressure over the winter, with nurses due to go on strike on December 15 and December 20 and ambulance workers on December 21.

According to Labour analysis, 30,000 operations were cancelled by NHS hospitals last year because there weren’t enough staff to deliver them.

Meanwhile, some hospitals are having to pay up to £5,200 a day for locum doctor shifts to plug the shortages.

In his Telegraph interview, the shadow health secretary said the BMA had been “hostile to the idea that with more staff must come better standards for patients”.

He also criticised what he called “defensive attitudes” and said that Labour will not have a “something-for-nothing culture in the NHS”.

Fogarty later interjected: “The impression that a lot of people are getting...is that you have spoiled for a fight with the BMA — that actually it’s the other way around.

“And the the idea of something for nothing culture — isn’t that the other way around in the vast majority of cases in the NHS, which is they create something out of nothing?”

Streeting replied: “I draw a distinction between the BMA and NHS staff because I think the BMA does doctors a disservice.

“In terms of something for nothing, the point I’m making...on behalf of the wider public, who I think are deeply anxious about the future of the NHS, is that a Labour government isn’t going to just keep pouring more money in without seeing improvements for patients.

“The conditions we’re seeing in the NHS today — the record waiting lists, for delays for ambulances, the queues in A&E, people not being able to get a GP appointment — it’s not the fault of NHS staff.

“But what I’m saying is when I say things like, ‘people shouldn’t have to wait on hold at eight o’clock in the morning to make a GP appointment’, speaking for patients, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable request, and I don’t expect to see that challenged by the BMA.

“When I say that the BMA are daft for passing a resolution saying they want to move to nine to five, I’m saying that both on behalf of patients, but I’m also pulling my hair out because I think I don’t know any doctors that are trying to restrict access to to their hours — in fact the GPs I talked to are trying to extend their hours.

“So why does their representative body give the impression that they want to reduce their opening hours?

“It’s stuff like that I find frustrating about the BMA.”

Dr Emma Runswick, deputy chair of council at the BMA, said Streeting’s comments over the weekend were “incredibly disappointing”.

“The anger for that crisis should be directed squarely at the government and their failure to invest, not at those who work in the NHS or the unions who represent them,” she said.


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