Putting doctors at the heart of reconfiguration
16 November 2012
The BMA Welsh council chair’s attempts to ice skate are some way behind his efforts to establish a lead role for the medical profession in reforms to the NHS
Treading carefully on slippery surfaces is a skill the new BMA Welsh council chair is quietly learning. But it’s not all tricky political manoeuvring though; Philip Banfield is currently learning to ice skate.
Mr Banfield explains: ‘My eight-year-old son Henry does ice dancing and he’s very good. I was persuaded to learn to ice skate, but I haven’t got my grade one yet.’
Cutting a measured and thoughtful figure, it is easy to see why he was elected by his peers last month.
A doctor for 28 years, Mr Banfield is an obs and gynae consultant at Glan Clwyd Hospital, north Wales, where he has worked for the past 17 years.
He has been married to GP wife Steph for 17 years and is a father of five. Born in Hertfordshire, he grew up in Crawley, West Sussex, and wanted to be a doctor from the age of eight. He took a job as a theatre porter while he waited to start medical school post-A-levels.
‘I’m completely fanatical about science,’ he explains. ‘And I was the type of child that would dissect a rat. I always had bits of animals around in my bedroom.’
Mr Banfield was a senior registrar in Cambridge when the opportunity arose to move to St Asaph in north Wales. It is currently one the UK’s newest cities (achieving its status as part of the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations) and, says Mr Banfield, is a ‘really nice place to live and work and for children to grow up’.
In the face of service reconfigurations in the north Wales area he clearly loves, Mr Banfield stepped up his involvement with the BMA around five years ago.
He says: ‘I’m a late attender of the BMA, and I’m the current chair of Clwyd North division. My involvement in the BMA has become more intense with the service reviews and reconfigurations in north Wales, where the division has had a facilitatory role in joining primary and secondary care views together.
‘Some of the issues have needed support and advice from the BMA Cardiff office. They’re a great team.’
A modest teacher
The recognition of talent in others at the BMA is a key for Mr Banfield — but he himself is no stranger to recognition. Earlier this year he was named BMA Cymru Wales/BMJ Learning Group Clinical Teacher of the Year.
At the time of the award, Mr Banfield was humble enough not to take the credit, praising others and stating: ‘This is a huge vindication of the high-quality clinical teaching that takes place in Welsh district hospitals and of clinical placements in north Wales in particular.’
His passion for training tomorrow’s doctors and protecting the NHS were among his reasons for standing as Welsh council chair after former chair Stefan Coghlan stepped down.
He explains: ‘I decided to stand primarily because of the issues with service reconfiguration. I really believe that the Welsh council can give clear direction to the process.
‘There are lots of individual plans going on in different places, be that health boards, the Welsh government, [the Welsh] deanery. What I feel we can do is to join them up. It’s my intention for the Welsh council to give a clear vision that will help recruitment and retention of medical staff.’
He adds: ‘We must not confuse training reconfiguration with reduction of service. We believe it’s perfectly possible to make Wales an attractive place to live and work within current resources.
‘A reduction in training numbers should invite health boards to look at new ways of providing care. For example, more consultant-based services and discussion with primary care about enhanced services may lead to a reduction in the need for hospital admission. I don’t think they are that different.’
So what does he foresee for his two-year term?
‘My role is to take people’s intelligence and expertise and convert it into clear policy for BMA Cymru Wales,’ he says.
‘BMA Cymru Wales has a superb staff and I have been impressed by their ability to achieve clear aims when these are known.’
Mr Banfield does acknowledge that things will have to change for the future given the squeeze on the public purse.
He adds: ‘This is a once-in-generation change to the NHS in Wales and I intend that the medical profession leads this in a constructive and purposeful manner.
‘We are in a culture of reduced resources and the public will need to decide what services it may be able to go without and which they may have to travel a bit further for.’
One of the biggest changes on the horizon is the reorganisation of specialist NHS services in south Wales.
Under the plans, called the South Wales Programme, obstetric, neonatal, inpatient paediatric and some high-level emergency department services will be centralised at four or five hospitals.
It was at Mr Banfield’s first BMA Welsh council meeting as chair that South Wales Programme lead chief executive Andrew Goodall, chief executive of Aneurin Bevan Health Board, outlined the changes.
During his presentation, Dr Goodall stressed how important it was for the health boards to listen and engage with staff in discussing the reorganisation.
Dr Goodall went as far as stating there would be no firm plans agreed until after a 12-week engagement programme.
Mr Banfield has welcomed such an approach.
He said: ‘It’s very important that the health boards engage with the wider profession because the effects of service reconfiguration, not only on other hospital specialties, but primary care and other services, are often unevaluated.
‘It is crucial that we look at and preserve the NHS, medical education and academic medicine as a whole in Wales if health is to improve in a manner outlined by current Welsh government strategy.’
It looks as though Mr Banfield is well on his way to finding his feet as BMA Welsh council chair — if not yet on ice.