By Gareth Iacobucci
The BMA has become embroiled in a bitter internal dispute over the Government's white paper reforms, after a rebel group of doctors urged the association to toughen its stance over the plans, and hold a Special Representative Meeting to debate the changes.
An open letter, signed by a BMA Council member and more than 100 GPs and other doctors, claims the BMA's policy of ‘critical engagement' with Andrew Lansley's controversial reforms has failed, and urges the association to harden its position and ‘mobilise the profession' to stop the changes going ahead.
The letter, drafted by Dr Clive Peedell, a consultant clinical oncologist and BMA Council member, says the BMA's current approach could actually hasten the reforms, by treating them as if they are a ‘done deal'.
It also criticises the GPC for by producing guidance documents for GPs on how to form commissioning consortia, and said the BMA needed to engage more with its own membership.
And while Dr Peedell stressed that he was signing the letter as co-chair of the NHS Consultants' Association rather than in his capacity as a BMA Council member, the move looks certain to re-open division within the BMA about how it should respond to health secretary Andrew Lansley's programme of reforms.
The letter warns the market-based reforms will ‘fundamentally undermine the principles of the NHS', and calls for the association to hold a Special Representative Meeting to debate the proposals.
It says: ‘The fact that market-based policies have actually been strengthened by Mr Lansley goes against BMA policy from numerous BMA annual representative meetings and the stated principles of the BMA's Look After Our NHS campaign.'
‘The BMA should therefore withdraw its policy of "critical engagement" with the government and engage more with its own membership. It is remarkable that BMA Council recently voted against holding a special representative meeting of the BMA to allow its membership to debate the current proposals.'
It adds: ‘We are very concerned that the BMA and more specifically the BMA General Practitioners Committee is treating proposed policy (that is, a white paper) as if it is policy.'
‘We believe that the BMA has no mandate from the BMA membership to continue with the "critical engagement" policy. The current approach from the BMA could actually hasten the pace of reform because the association has effectively sent a message to the profession that the white paper is a done deal.'
‘We understand the pressures you are under, but it is now time to mobilise the profession and stop these damaging reforms, which will not only destroy the NHS but also profoundly affect the social fabric of our nation.'
BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum, said: 'The BMA represents all doctors in the UK and as such there will always be a broad spectrum of views on a wide range of issues.
'The BMA will continue to forcefully represent members' concerns as the Government's proposals move to the next stage. We will also seek to support members through guidance and advice about how the proposed reforms could impact on their working lives, which many doctors are already experiencing at a local level.'
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