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Meldrum under pressure as BMA prepares to debate outright rejection of the health bill

By Ian Quinn

Motions being drawn up by BMA rebels ahead of the Special Representative Meeting next month will put BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum under pressure to step down unless he adopts a much tougher stance against the health bill, Pulse has learned.

BMA insiders have told Pulse anger at the reforms among GPs and other doctors is such that many attending a Special Representative Meeting next month will not be satisfied with anything other than outright rejection of the policy of critical engagement with the Government's reforms which Dr Meldrum has spearheaded.

However, Pulse has also been told that Dr Meldrum is seen as a key figure and supporter of the NHS who most would like to lead a reinvigorated BMA battle against key elements of the health bill, including the policy of any willing provider, the role of Monitor and price competition in the NHS.

Health secretary Andrew Lansley is also likely to face a vote of no confidence from BMA leaders.

Dr Meldrum is due to face around 250 GPs and other doctors in London tomorrow night at a meeting organised by the capital's regional branch of the BMA, in which he will debate the reforms alongside Mr Lansley's deputy, health minister Simon Burns, and Labour shadow health minister Diane Abbott.

Many of those attending will be strong opponents of the health bill, with Dr Meldrum and the minister expected to face angry questioning from the floor.

But an even bigger test for Dr Meldrum will come at the Special Representative Meeting on 15 March, also in London, which was called at the third time of asking by the BMA Council amid growing anger from grassroots members across the country.

The Special Representative Meeting will see an avalanche of motions attacking the health bill, with the threat of privatisation, the impact of competition and fears over GPs' new rationing role all high on the list of motions to be debated.

One BMA insider told Pulse: ‘You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that the mood of the BMA membership is that they want a change of direction. They believe the Government has completely ignored opposition to the health bill.'

‘There are many who right from the start questioned the policy of critical engagement and I think some of them will be saying the leadership was naïve and that the policy has been proved wrong.'

‘Hamish is in a very difficult position because he has led that policy and his position will depend on how clearly he is able to state the BMA's position. There clearly has to be a massive toughening of its stance.'

BMA Council member Dr Jacky Davis told Pulse she was calling for motions at the meeting which would ‘chuck out the whole bill'.

‘It is cut from whole cloth and we can't cherry pick it,' she said. ‘We need to dump the whole thing and start again with input from health professionals this time, if indeed we need any more changes.'

‘Public satisfaction is at its highest with the NHS and outcomes are improving rapidly so we don't need this unless it is all about commercialisation. Which of course, it is.'

Dr Davis has also proposed a motion of no confidence in Mr Lansley, which is likely to be debated by the meeting.

‘Fingers crossed that we can kill the bll and dump Lansley with it,' she said.

Fellow council member, Dr Clive Peedell, a consultant clinical oncologist, said he too had proposed a motion to the SRM calling for the BMA to 'oppose the bill outright'.

But he said: 'It [critical engagement] was council's decision not Dr Meldrum's decision and he has full support of council.'

Former BMA Council member and veteran GP turned PCT leader ,Dr Kailash Chand, who is among the prominent opponents of the bill, said: ‘I think that Hamish is in a difficult position at a difficult time. He has tried to critically engage with the Government but they have quite clearly ignored the BMA completely.'

However, Dr John Lister, information director of London Health Emergency and an outspoken critic of the BMA's policy, said: ‘I think the people who are most angry at the reforms will have regarded Hamish Meldrum as being on their side and as someone who believes strongly in the NHS. I think if there was a vote for a general strike then maybe he might ask what am I doing at the top of this organisation but I don't think that's likely.'

‘I think the BMA needs to toughen up its act. They have been absolutely ignored by the Government and they've got no bargaining platform to lose.'

‘But I would have thought most members would be satisfied with a return to the values of the Look After Our NHS campaign, which it had launched under the previous Government, rather than wanting to get rid of Hamish.

Another BMA leader said: ‘I think Hamish has done a very good job considering the huge range of opinions in the BMA.'

BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum will speak at a BMA London meeting Thursday night BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum will speak at a BMA London meeting Thursday night