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Growing rebellion set to force BMA vote on emergency white paper meeting

By Ian Quinn

Exclusive: The BMA council is set to hold a crunch vote on whether to hold an emergency meeting on its stance on the Goverment's health white paper, after almost a dozen regional branches backed a debate on the issue.

BMA leaders are under growing pressure to stage a Special Representative Meeting as rebels try to harden the association's stance against the Government's NHS reforms and end its policy of ‘critical engagement'.

GPs who oppose health secretary Andrew Lansley's plans have accused the BMA – and in particular the GPC - of failing to adequately consult with the grass roots in forming policy and even of helping accelerate the reforms.

Mr Lansley attempted to rally the troops at a meeting of nearly 100 GP leaders in Warwickshire last week, urging delegates to seize the initiative and strongly hinting the health bill, due in the next two weeks, would be intentionally light on regulation.

But BMA council is almost certain to vote on whether to hold a Special Representative Meeting at its next meeting on 26 January, after twice previously rejecting the idea.

Its hand could even be forced, with Pulse learning at least half a dozen regional BMA branches have already voted for an emergency meeting. If more than 30 of the 200 branches do so the meeting would have to be held within a month.

Last week an open letter to the BMJ, signed by more than 100 GPs and other doctors, demanded the meeting go ahead to give the grass roots a say in the BMA's stance.

Dr Kambiz Boomla, a GP in Tower Hamlets and one of the signatories, said: ‘This issues have not been properly debated and the BMA's policy of constructive engagement means processes have actually accelerated.'

Dr Brian Fisher, a GP in Lewisham planning to petition MPs about the reforms, warned: ‘There is a huge groundswell of opinion against the proposals among GPs.'

Lewisham division of the BMA last week passed a motion calling for a meeting to ‘fully involve members about these fundamental changes'.

Dr Paul Hobday, Kent LMC spokesperson and a GP in Maidstone, said the BMA Maidstone branch would be holding its vote in the next two weeks.

‘It's a perfect opportunity to let Mr Lansley know what we think of his policies,' he said.

Dr Helena McKeown, a BMA council member and GP in Salisbury, said she shared concerns about the NHS reforms but felt there was no appetite for rebellion: ‘We also don't want to take ourselves out of the negotiating table and leave it to gung ho people and private companies.'

A joint response by BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum and GPC chair Dr Laurence Buckman to the BMJ open letter said: ‘Our position on the Government's plans is rooted in policies agreed through our democratic processes.'