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BMA debates plan to lead mass patient opt-out from privately provided NHS care

Exclusive: The BMA is considering leading a mass patient opt-out from privately-run NHS services as part of the next phase of its campaign to fight the NHS reforms, Pulse can reveal.

BMA Council has agreed to explore a plan to produce and promote ‘patient pledge’ cards, which would allow patients to ask their GP to refer them only to publicly-run NHS services, providing the quality of their care would not be compromised.

The scheme, based on an existing Keep Our NHS Public campaign and designed to sabotage the Government’s competition agenda, could see GPs coding patients’ wishes to be treated by NHS providers into their medical records.

BMA Council, which appears to have dropped plans to debate a full-scale boycott of commissioning, endorsed a motion agreeing in principle to explore the ‘patient pledge’ idea at its last meeting, and is set to make a final decision at its next meeting in November.

In the meantime, the GPC has been asked to consider the practicalities of the plan, including whether GPs should record patients’ preferences in their records or whether patients themselves would hold cards as with the organ donor card.

The GPC will also consider how the cards could be distributed, with GPs likely to be asked to hand them to patients in their practices.

Dr Clive Peedell, the BMA council member and co-chair of the NHS Consultants’ Association who proposed the motion at the last BMA Council meeting, said: ‘The card is designed to scare off healthcare investors. We need to send the strongest possible message that we don’t want our health service to be privatised.’

Dr Louise Irvine, a BMA Council member and GP in Lewisham, south-east London, who seconded Dr Peedell’s motion, said: ‘The card would take forward the BMA policy of campaigning against the Health and Social Care Act, in particular raising public awareness of the damaging effects of privatisation on NHS services.’

But others on BMA Council urged caution. Dr Peter Holden, who is also a GPC negotiator, warned the campaign was ‘overtly political’ and said: ‘We need to know a lot more details about this. We have to retain a relationship with our patients for 40 years.’

Dr Coral Jones, a GP in Hackney, east London, who already offers Keep Our NHS Public pledge cards at her surgery, said: ‘Patients are keen. We have had around 20 who have dropped it in and asked for it to be put in their notes.’

Ben Troke, partner at Browne Jacobson LLP solicitors, said: ‘There’s no competition law obligation on patients as such not to exclude private providers. But I would be concerned about asking a patient now to rule out a number of their options, in advance and out of hand.’