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BMA members defy leadership to call for health bill to be scrapped

Delegates at the BMA's Annual Representative Meeting have voted for the health bill to be scrapped, despite the array of amendments proposed by the Government.

Rejecting an appeal from BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum urging delegates not to risk losing the concessions that had been won, a majority voted for the association to call for the scrapping of the whole reform package.

However it remains unclear to what extent BMA policy towards the bill will be altered, given that delegates later rejected a motion to 'oppose the Health and Social Care Bill in its entirety'.

In an emergency motion proposed and seconded by London GPs Dr Paddy Glackin and Dr Jacqueline Applebee this morning, delegates instructed the leadership ‘to continue to call for the Health and Social Care Bill 2011 to be withdrawn.'

Dr Glackin said that the majority of GPs regarded the bill as a ‘privatisation of the health service' and said that it could not be salvaged as a piece of legislation.

‘If it is deemed that the changes [to the health bill] are not significant, that the changes potentially damage patient care, then it falls on us to democratically consult our members and reject this bill,' he said.

Dr Applebee backed his call, adding: ‘Less than two months ago the BMA's submission to the NHS Future Forum said that the best solution would be the withdrawal of the bill and I believe the amendments should not make us change our position.'

‘Privatisation, which has been going on covertly under the radar for a decade, is still enshrined in the bill and we must never forget that private companies are run for profit, not need.'

Speaking for the BMA leadership, Dr Meldrum argued against calling for the bill to be withdrawn and asked: ‘Is the timing right to say that despite the progress we've made this bill should be withdrawn? Secondly, is there any possibility that this bill is actually going to be withdrawn?'

'I have spoken to many Lib Dem MPs initially opposed to the bill and the feeling I get is that they now want to work with it and see it through.'

‘There is still a lot to do, there's still a lot we can get and whereas I am happy for you to send me like Oliver Twist asking for more, and I will do that, there is also the issue that if you push too far you may lose some of the ground we have already taken.'

However Dr Glackin said that passing the motion would actually strengthen the leadership's hand over the Government: ‘This is not the time to back off, this is not the time to send a message that we will back down, this is the time to push further and harder.'

Later in proceedings the ARM rejected a separate motion calling on the BMA to ‘oppose the Health and Social Care Bill in its entirety'.

A BMA spokesperson told Pulse that following the debate BMA policy would be to continue to call for the withdrawal of the bill but that the association wanted elements such GP-led commissioning retained in any future reform.

Dr Meldrum is set to give evidence to the House of Commons' health bill committee on Tuesday afternoon and will convey the BMA view that the legislation should be withdrawn.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: 'This vote is disappointing because only a few weeks ago the doctors' union said there was much in our response to the listening exercise that addressed their concerns, and that many of the principles outlined reflected changes they had called for.'

'The bill has changed substantially since the BMA first voted to oppose government policy. Our plans have been greatly strengthened in order to improve care for patients and safeguard the future of the NHS.'

Story updated 14.30