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BMA warned of ‘historic mistake’ over GP commissioning plans

By Steve Nowottny

Anti-privatisation campaigners have warned the BMA it is making a ‘historic mistake' in agreeing to engage with the Government's health White Paper, comparing the association's stance to its opposition to the launch of the NHS in 1948.

In an open letter to BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum, London Health Emergency claimed the BMA's stance gave a ‘fig leaf' of credibility to plans for a massive expansion of the private sector, and argued it was a betrayal of the BMA's Look After Our NHS campaign, which last year called for a ‘publicly funded and publicly provided' health service.

The letter – written in response to Dr Meldrum's letter to the profession last month, which described the White Paper as a ‘large curate's egg' – also raises fears that GPs will be made to ‘carry the can' for swingeing cuts as the NHS struggles to make £20 billion in efficiency savings.

London Health Emergency's Dr John Lister wrote: ‘It is clear that, far from being empowered to improve services for patients as they might wish, if the White Paper is implemented GPs will, for the next few years at least, find themselves being used repeatedly to wield the axe on a range of popular services.'

The letter argues that the BMA's decision to ‘critically engage' with the White Paper fundamentally undermines the eight principles of its Look After The NHS campaign, and warns that ‘privatisation of health care on this scale has never occurred in any health service anywhere in the world, so nobody knows the possible consequences for the future of patient care.'

‘The BMA decision represents a very serious mistake and is clearly incompatible with the previously declared principles and campaigning profile of the BMA,' the letter reads.

‘It is most unlikely that this stance will be viewed with much respect by health ministers, who will simply regard it as a strengthening of their position and an indication that if they keep the pressure on they get their way with the BMA.'

The letter also compares the BMA's stance to that of the association when it opposed the launch of the NHS in 1948.

‘Sadly it seems that the current stance of the BMA could result in the GPs again lining up on the wrong side of the debate,' it says.

But a BMA spokesperson denied that the association had backtracked from the position set out in the Look After Our NHS campaign.

‘As Hamish Meldrum's letter to the profession makes clear, the BMA has said that it will critically engage with the White Paper consultation process,' he said.

‘By doing so, we are not retreating from the principles underpinning the ‘Look After our NHS' campaign; quite the reverse, we are trying to ensure that we defend and strengthen them.'

‘We will continue to highlight the negative impact of both commercialisation and financial cuts on NHS services, though the latter were announced under the previous government, well before the election and the publication of the White Paper.'

Dr Hamish Meldrum has been accused of making a 'historic mistake' by anti-privatisation campaigners Dr Hamish Meldrum has been accused of making a 'historic mistake' by anti-privatisation campaigners Click here for more news and comment on the health White Paper Health White Paper Read the letter in full

To read the full open letter to BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum from London Health Emergency, please click here.