BMA chair Dr Hamish Meldrum has warned the profession to think 'very, very carefully' about whether to take further industrial action over the Government's pension changes, warning doctors not to lose the trust of their patients.
In his keynote speech to the BMA's annual representative meeting in Bournemouth – his last as Council chair - Dr Meldrum said doctors should not be rushing to 'repeat or escalate' last week's day of action, despite the Government's 'betrayal of trust' in reneging on the 2008 pensions deal.
He said that he would not be involved in discussions later this week over whether to take further action, but advised: 'I urge all parties to think very, very carefully about the next steps - because there has to be a resolution, eventually, and the longer it takes the more polarised both sides become, the more difficult it will be to reach that resolution and the more damage we risk to our trusted relationship with our patients and the public.'
In a wide-ranging speech, in which he also attacked the Government over the NHS reforms and urged doctors not to turn their backs on revalidation despite their just misgivings, Dr Meldrum focussed his attention primarily on last Thursday's industrial action, with messages for both doctors and the Government.
He told ministers: 'We want to find a sensible and fair solution. We don't want special treatment, but we do want fair treatment.
But he struck a more cautious tone when addressing his colleagues.
He said: 'However angry we are, however hard done by feel, however much our cause is just, we cannot and must not lose the trust of the public.'
'Though we demonstrated a powerful and united voice on Thursday, while also delivering on our essential commitment to maintain patient safety, no-one should be triumphalist, no-one should be rushing to repeat it or escalate it.'
'Let's also remember that whilst other unions are angry and other health workers feel betrayed and have expressed their support, most of them seem likely, albeit reluctantly, to accept the new arrangements.
He added: 'I understand and share your anger but we must not let that anger prevent us from trying to find a sensible way out of this dispute.'
Dr Meldrum, whose term in office ends on Thursday, offered as his parting message to the profession a plea to 'value our younger doctors, support our young doctors, encourage our young doctors', and to 'help them gain and sustain their sense of vocation, and their sense of professional pride.'
He said: 'This is a great profession, a proud profession, a profession with a great history - a history we must cherish, not in a sentimental and backward looking way, but as a strong foundation on which to build and to move forward.'