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Doctors' leaders have called for the resignation of the chief medical officer for England, Liam Donaldson, blaming him for a catalogue of disasters that is engulfing the NHS.
John Hyslop, chairman of the BMA's Central Consultants and Specialists Committee, who proposed the motion at the BMA's annual representatives' meeting, cited as reasons for Professor Donaldson to resign the disagreement between doctors and the Department of Health over doctors' regulation and the chaos created by the new system for allocating training places for junior doctors. Both were good ideas that had got “into problems because of mismanagement by the Department of Health,” he said.
Dr Hyslop also called the department's proposal to lower the standard of proof needed to strike off a doctor—from the criminal one of “beyond all reasonable doubt” to the civil standard of “balance of probability”—as “rough justice for doctors and patients.”
“Deliver safe changes—something that is fit for purpose, not endless paper trails distracting us from caring for our patients,” he told the conference. “The nation is now threatened by the NHS in crisis.”
He said that in May 2006 the then chairman of the BMA's council, James Johnson, and the chairwoman of the Junior Doctors Committee, Jo Hilborne, had been “knocking at the door” of the chief medical officer asking to discuss the medical training application system (MTAS), the new system for allocating junior doctor training posts, because they could foresee problems, but they were effectively frozen out.
Dr Hilborne said that Professor Donaldson had been “very distant” since MTAS ran into problems. “He has not been a very visible presence, and I feel he should have been watching it and stepping in when it went wrong,” she said. “He has done a great disservice to junior doctors in the UK.”
Helena McKeown, from the General Practitioners Committee, told the meeting, “The CMO [chief medical officer] has stood by and watched as they [junior doctors] buy one-way tickets abroad. We are effectively giving Australia and New Zealand millions of pounds of tax payers' money.”
Earlier, Sam Everington, acting chairman of the BMA, called on the incoming prime minister, Gordon Brown, to “end the misery of the junior doctors and give them back their futures in the NHS.”
Leaked correspondence from the health department obtained by the pressure group Remedy UK shows that by 18 June more than a quarter of training posts for junior doctors (4066 out of 15600) remained unfilled. In some areas—in Wales, for example, and in ophthalmology—just 22% of training posts had been filled.
Patricia Hewitt, the secretary of state for health, had promised that by 1 August no junior doctors would be unemployed, said Dr Hilborne. Any doctors not in post should contact the BMA, she said.
Matt Jameson Evans, spokesman for Remedy UK, said, “The situation is even worse than we thought when we started flagging up the problem of the August handover, months ago.
“We now find ourselves in the Kafkaesque situation of having thousands of excellent doctors with no job for August and thousands of empty posts. It's difficult to see how this won't impact on patients.”