Medical doctors have same problem as chiropractors; the people that represent them

February 16, 2011

images.jpgvvBMA leader could be toppled in revolt by doctors against NHS reforms

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the BMA, the doctors’ union, is under fire for co-operating with ministers over health reforms.

The future of the leader of Britain’s doctors is in doubt because grassroots medics blame the British Medical Association for doing too little to oppose the government’s NHS shakeup.

Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the doctors’ union, could be ousted next month if the BMA decides to ditch its co-operation with ministers over the health reforms and replace it with outright opposition.

Doctors who fear health secretary Andrew Lansley’s radical restructuring will destroy the NHS in England plan to propose motions censuring the BMA leadership at the union’s special representative meeting (SRM) – in effect an emergency meeting – on 15 March. It is the first such meeting to be held since 1992, when one was convened to voice doctors’ opposition to the then government’s plans to introduce an internal market into the NHS.

Friends of Meldrum admit he could be forced to quit if doctors vote to reject the health and social care bill. "Hamish is under a lot of pressure – enough pressure that it could topple him," said one friend. "If the BMA commits itself to total opposition, Hamish can’t stay."

Meldrum’s predecessor, Dr James Johnson, was forced to quit in mid-2007 over his perceived failure to take a robust enough stance over government mistakes with junior doctors’ training.

A meeting on Thursday evening of doctors in the BMA’s London branch is expected to give an indication of the depth of hostility towards the changes, which will see commissioning of healthcare handed to GPs. Surveys have shown that a majority of doctors are highly sceptical or outright opposed.

The BMA has said that it welcomes some of the bill’s general principles but has expressed concerns about potential privatisation and whether it will improve patient care. But some doctors are annoyed that the views of the 140,000-strong membership were not sought before the leadership opted for a policy of "critical engagement" with the government.

Meldrum admitted last month that Lansley had not taken any of the BMA’s detailed criticisms on board. Critics say he has little to show for months of discussions with ministers and civil servants.

Several doctors, including BMA council member and consultant oncologist Dr Clive Peedell, have drawn up motions for the SRM urging the union to reject Lansley’s plans. Peedell’s criticises the "market-based policies enshrined within the health and social care bill" and adds: "We call upon the BMA to oppose the bill in its entirety."

One of Meldrum’s leading critics, who did not want to be named, said: "The SRM is high stakes. Official opposition to the bill as a whole rather than select bits of it is a real possibility. It’s also likely that there’ll be moves to formally censure Hamish for deciding on a policy of ‘critical engagement’ with too little initial consultation on what is the biggest thing ever to hit the NHS – in which case there’ll be a new chairman."

The tensions in the BMA include a rift between GPs and hospital consultants. Dr Kailash Chand, an ex-GP who was on the BMA’s council until last year and is chairman of the NHS primary care trust in Tameside and Glossop, said: "Consultants are worried that if all the responsibility for commissioning is given to GPs,they will be left out of the process."

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