Doctors forced to apologise for system-wide failings, BMA chief claims

Doctors are having to apologise for system-wide failings, it has been suggested.

Doctors forced to say sorry to patients for system-wide failings, BMA chief claims iStock

The boss of a trade union representing doctors and nurses has called for staff to be “given the tools to make things better”.

Dr Lewis Morrison, who chairs the British Medical Association in Scotland, said that many have found themselves having to apologise to patients and families for what he said were system-wide failings.

But, he insisted that they were having to be apologists for things that are not their fault.

Morrison made the remarks as he delivered his final report to the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting before stepping down from his role at the end of summer.

And he said that it had been “nothing short of a miracle” that the medical profession had enduring and come through the challenges it faced during the pandemic.

“My message is simple – stop asking doctors to say sorry and give them the tools to make things better,” said Morrison.

“There’s an opportunity to be grasped here. If it isn’t, the medical profession and the people of Scotland will be the worse for it.

“Many of us have found ourselves saying sorry to patients and families a lot recently; most of the time we are being apologists for things that are simply not our fault.

“That doesn’t make it any less tough to be the messengers who bear the brunt for the myriad of things going wrong across the whole health system.

“And it’s not just us – I know nurses, GP receptionists and all of us working in health care are in the firing line.”

Dr Morrison said that there are many people who are now considering whether healthcare is a place where a medical career is tenable.

“We came into the pandemic with resources and staffing stretched so thin that it is nothing short of a miracle we have somehow endured. But not all of us have,” he said.

“The direct and indirect effects of the pandemic have had the most profound impact on the physical and mental health of the profession. Some of our colleagues are not at work because of that.

“Many others are considering whether healthcare in Scotland is a place in which a medical career is tenable and survivable and are considering whether other places may be better, reducing their hours or retiring earlier than they otherwise may have done.

“The pain of working in, and apologising for, a system that is simply letting patients down at all stages is hard to over-estimate.”

Dr Morrison pointed to a lack of investment and overstretched services in the health service.

“Years of underinvestment and a frankly complacent attitude to working conditions and recruitment have led us to where we are now,” he said.

“The rubber band that is our NHS was stretched so far and tightly before the pandemic that it has now snapped in many places.”

Dr Morrison also insisted that the coronavirus pandemic did not cause many of the problems which is facing the NHS.

“We need more honesty and frankly an explanation from Scottish Government on how they allowed the NHS to come into a pandemic so grossly understaffed and under-resourced,” he said.

“Why is it doctors and NHS staff who are constantly having to explain and apologise to the thousands who will wait months or years for their tests or to be seen – while politicians continue to bang on about ridiculous targets and timescales for treatment, which we all know are unachievable?

“The pandemic did not cause these problems whatever they might say; it simply exposed the truth and the extent of them.

“Some honesty about that would go a long way. It would also help us really start to get to grips with solutions.”

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