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BMA buckles under pressure

During the final, fraught months of Tony Blair's premiership, each week was hailed as his worst yet. It's felt much like that for the BMA lately, too, but it's safe to assume it won't have to endure a worse week than the one just gone for some time.

During the final, fraught months of Tony Blair's premiership, each week was hailed as his worst yet. It's felt much like that for the BMA lately, too, but it's safe to assume it won't have to endure a worse week than the one just gone for some time.



BMA leaders were on the back foot from the off, as health minister Ben Bradshaw accused the association of failing to represent its members, and deliberately misrepresenting the contract deal to GPs. Dr Richard Vautrey's nervous appearance on Radio 4's Today programme did little to win back confidence.

The bruising encounter on the same programme two days later, between Lancet editor Dr Richard Horton and BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum, hardly helped. Dr Meldrum sounded less than delighted at having to defend some of the more inflammatory recent comments from GP leaders, as divisions began to open up over the BMA's negotiating strategy.

Tail between its legs

But at least, at that point, we still thought we knew what the BMA's negotiating strategy was, with GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman pretty clear about his appetite for a fight. Come last Thursday, though, the GPC slunk into a press conference, tail between its legs, to announce that now was not the time for that scrap after all. A message rushed out to GPs lashed out at the 'level of venom directed at the GPC'.

All of which leaves GPs feeling a little dazed, perhaps, and certainly confused. So why has the GPC backtracked so furiously? Negotiators said they had won a concession over extended hours but they didn't disclose the details, even to GPC members. GPC members themselves said the climbdown was because of a perception that grassroots GPs had lost the appetite for a fight that felt unwinnable. And one leading GP told Pulse he felt Dr Buckman would seriously lose face if, as he expected, GPs voted Yes for the Government deal. Even the fiercest of streetfighters can lose their nerve when their dignity is under threat.

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