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Meldrum tells BMA delegates debating health bill opposition: ‘We need to be realistic’

By Gareth Iacobucci

BMA chair Hamish Meldrum has urged GPs not to reject the Government's Health and Social Care Bill outright, but instead concentrate on fighting its most controversial elements.

Delivering his keynote address at the BMA's Special Representative Meeting (SRM) this morning, Dr Meldrum said it would be very difficult to completely halt the bill in its entirety, despite receiving a vociferous standing ovation from delegates as he pledged: 'The profession does not support this bill'.

He said: 'How likely is it that the coalition Government - to whom this legislation is second only in importance to sorting out the economy - is going to buckle and withdraw the bill? Most commentators and political analysts believe it to be unlikely in the extreme.'

'We need to be realistic about where we are now and what we wish for, because, even without this bill, the way the NHS is being run in England is far from perfect.'

'Even in their moment of victory at the weekend, the talk from Shirley Williams and Evan Harris was not of abandoning the whole bill, it was calling for "major changes to the health bill".'

But Dr Meldrum did attack the Government for claiming the BMA supported the reforms, and said the association had been instrumental in influencing the Liberal Democrat revolt at the party's spring conference last week.

He said: 'Our position has hardened and intensified further since publication of the bill, partly because the Government showed little sign of listening to us, or anyone else really, regardless of how completely we criticised it.'

'Let no one be in doubt, I do not support this bill. The BMA does not support this bill. The profession - as shown by our recent MORI poll and in meetings - does not support this bill.'

But despite the huge applause he received from representatives when at his most hardline, Dr Meldrum again adopted a pragmatic tone when advising doctors how to vote.

He said: 'I would urge you not to tie the hands of those who work and negotiate on your behalf, in what is a challenging and fast-moving situation. To be effective we need flexibility, the ability to respond quickly as things change. There are huge dangers in putting all your negotiating eggs in one basket, however strongly you may feel that this is the right thing to do.'

'Whatever our individual views are, this is not about particular sectional interests or high-profile personalities, it's about flawed, ill-conceived policies and it is those we must attack.'

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