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‘Furious’ Meldrum tells BMA: ‘Back me or sack me’

Exclusive: BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum is set to challenge BMA Council to ‘back me or sack me' after being formally censured by his colleagues across London for ‘undermining' opposition to the Government's NHS reforms.

A hundred doctors of 110 attending BMA London's AGM last week backed an extraordinary motion proposing a ‘a vote of censure' in Dr Meldrum for his failure to promote members' views and campaign for the withdrawal of the health bill.

A source at the BMA said Dr Meldrum, a GP in Bridlington, East Yorkshire, was ‘furious' about being censured, not least because the motion was tabled by Dr Anna Athow, a fellow member of BMA Council. A second source close to Dr Meldrum said the embattled BMA chair would hit back by seeking a vote of confidence from BMA Council at its meeting on Wednesday.

The BMA confirmed that the Council will discuss ‘the specific issues' surrounding the censure motion.

Dr Meldrum's predecessor as BMA chair, Dr James Johnson, was forced to resign in 2007 after doctors felt he failed to represent their views over the MTAS scandal. But allies of Dr Meldrum played down speculation he could be forced out and said they ‘fully expect' the BMA chair to win Council's backing. One source said Dr Meldrum would use the vote to ‘flush out' his opponents and allow him to claim BMA London's views are unrepresentative.

The deep hostility from members in the capital puts Dr Meldrum under intense pressure to toughen up his line on the health bill as the BMA prepares to lobby peers to amend or withdraw it. Critics are particularly concerned it will continue to open up the NHS through any qualified provider, despite strong criticism of the policy during the listening exercise.

A BMA source told Pulse: ‘Hamish is furious about being censured but it reflects the failure of the BMA's ‘critical engagement' policy on the health bill. In any other walk of life where you pushed a policy for a year and it turned out to be a complete failure you would at least admit it was wrong and do something stronger, particularly when your members are mandating you to do so.'

‘They will rally round Hamish at Council level but the problem is the ordinary member doesn't have a voice that Hamish can hear. The London branch might have become that.'

Dr Kevin O'Kane, chair of BMA London, told Pulse: ‘London's doctors are angry with Council for failing to fulfil its mandate and effectively campaign for the bill's withdrawal. Council is undermining opposition by signing letters about amendments rather than withdrawal. This bill is not fit for purpose, it is appalling, and no amount of tinkering will make it right. We're reflecting the message coming from doctors around the country.'

Dr Brian Keighley, chair of BMA Scotland and a GP in Balfron, Stirlingshire, rejected the vote's significance, saying: ‘I have every confidence in Hamish Meldrum's leadership and do not think this in any way compromises his position.'

Dr Meldrum was not available for comment, but a BMA spokesperson said: ‘BMA Council will be given the opportunity to discuss the specific issues raised by the London Regional Council motion.'

‘The BMA has undertaken an extensive programme of public activity calling for the bill to be withdrawn. We remain concerned the legislation presents unacceptable risks to the NHS.'

Dr Robin Jackson, a GP in Lancaster, said: ‘Was this a BMA conference or Walking with Dinosaurs? These blinkered views [from BMA London] are simply not representative of those of us now having real influence in our CCGs.'

But Dr Louise Irvine, a GP in Lewisham, south London, said: ‘The BMA promised a public campaign and did not deliver. The Twitter thing was only one day and the "Look after our NHS" section of its website is hopelessly out of date.'