By Ian Quinn
BMA leaders have successfully defeated calls to abandon their policy of ‘critical engagement’ with the Government, as delegates at the SRM condemned the NHS reforms but voted against opposing the health bill ‘in its entirety’.
The vote, by a majority of 54% to 44%, with 2% abstaining, came after an appeal from BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum, for representatives to allow negotiators to try to continue to influence the reforms, rather than risk losing their place at the table by launching an all-out onslaught.
Representatives voted 54% to 43% to reject another part of the motion, claiming that the BMA’s strategy had failed, and passed by an overwhelming majority a motion congratulating the BMA Council on the success of its ‘active engagement’.
Although members will be polled on what action they would like to see taken about the bill, the outcome of the Special Representative Meeting stops far short of the threat of industrial action favoured by some BMA divisions.
Dr Michelle Drage, chair of Londonwide LMCs, warned the meeting that voting to oppose the bill in its entirety would see an exodus of GPs to the National Association of Primary Care, which she claimed was ‘sitting pretty’ waiting to pick up ‘disaffected GPs’ who have taken on commissioning.
She warned it could take the BMA 20 years to recover if it voted to reject the bill lock, stock and barrel.
Dr Drage said: ‘What will happen if we go down that road? We will still be stuck with poor quality management in PCTs and SHAs and they will bring in outside providers from the private sector.’
BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum, who had urged representatives not to ‘tie the hands’ of negotiators, said it was not too late for the association to influence the bill.
He said he had been in talks with Liberal Democrat veteran Dame Shirley Williams, who led a backlash against the reforms at the party’s spring conference at the weekend, resulting in the party’s MPs pledging to press for major amendments to the plans, including new measures to limit the role of private providers.
Dr Meldrum added: ‘The Liberal Democrats do not believe there will not be a health bill but we are in a different environment since that meeting.’
‘There’s still a long way to go and a lot to fight for.’
Dr Jacky Davis, the BMA Council member who proposed the motion calling for outright opposition, had earlier received two standing ovations after she warned representatives the Government’s reforms could ‘destroy the NHS’.
Dr Davis said: ‘If you think the Government will listen to us you’ve probably got fairies at the bottom of your garden.’
‘If we don’t reject this bill it will be a long term disaster. The association will have no future if we have a privatised NHS.’
She added: ‘All we’ve got from being inside the tent is a close up view of Mr Lansley’s bulldozer.’
But Dr Paul Miller, a fellow BMA Council member, claimed the policy of critical engagement had been ‘the right policy’, and said the BMA had made clear its strong objections to the bill.
Some BMA council members plan to continue calls for the association to take more direct action against the bill, including polling the membership on the possibility of industrial action, at tomorrow’s council meeting. But today’s votes will go down as a victory for the BMA leadership, despite an earlier vote calling for the health bill to be withdrawn.
Click here for all our coverage from the meeting SRM BMA members reject outright opposition to health bill in knife-edge vote Dr Richard Vautrey at the SRM