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BMA throws in the towel in battle to recommend locum fee rates

The BMA has bowed to pressure from non-principals and is abandoning its three-year battle for the right to recommend locum pay rates.

The surprise decision will mean the free market for

cover, which has led locum rates to rocket to as much as £400 a day in some areas, will continue.

Locum fee scales were

banned by the Office of

Fair Trading in 2000 on

the grounds they were 'anti-

competitive'.

The BMA has vehemently opposed the decision, arguing the scales help protect locums who cannot shop around for work from being exploited and GP principals from having to pay sky-high rates for cover.

But at a meeting with the National Association of Non-Principals, it conceded locums were used to the free market and did not need a fee scale.

Dr Peter Holden, chair of the BMA professional fees committee, said the association was not prepared to continue paying legal advisers' fees on a case it could not guarantee winning.

'Locums don't want anyone to suggest anything, and there is considerable goodwill among the relative parties,' he said. 'The bottom line with the OFT is we could spend a very great deal of time and money on the job, and we may not win.'

Dr Holden added the decision still had to be ratified by the BMA council and attacked the NANP for being 'premature' in announcing an agreement.

NANP chair Dr Richard Fieldhouse said he hoped the BMA would now endorse its guidance to locums which suggests how they should work out what to charge but does not specify a rate.

Earlier this year Dr Fieldhouse accused the BMA of acting in the interests of GP principals rather than locums in its battle to publish scales.

Dr Holden said a consultant member of the BMA would chair meetings on locum rates in future to stave off accusations the BMA is biased in favour of principals.

Dr Victoria Weeks, chair of the GPC's non-principals sub-committee, said the decision was not a U-turn but recognising 'the real world'.

She said: 'Time has moved on. It's just a question of reviewing the position in light of what's changed.'

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