DOCTORS at the British Medical Association (BMA) Annual Representatives Meeting (ARM) on Tuesday made a bid to press forward their advantage, after passing Motion 689 reasserting their SRM demand that the Health and Social Care Bill be withdrawn.
They forced a debate on Motion 658 that ‘calls on the BMA to oppose the Health and Social Care Bill in its entirety’.
The motion was originally ruled as unable to be heard, but after passionate debates on other motions opposing large sections of the Bill, chairman Dr Hajidoff was forced to take an electronic vote on suspension of standing orders to allow the debate on 658.
This required a two thirds majority and the result was 69 per cent ‘Yes’ to 29 per cent ‘No’, with three per cent abstaining.
Mover Dr Jacky Davis said: ‘The government was supposed to be listening, but the Bill has got worse.’
She added that following the Future Forum recommendations, ‘We’ve been sold a respray – a job comprised of two write-offs.’
She warned: ‘Competition is still very much there, Foundation Trusts still there.
‘There is still no cap on private patients, and there’s the Commissioning Board to promote competition.’
Dr Davis stressed: ‘The core of the Bill is untouched, Cameron’s red lines have not been crossed.
‘The Bill is the final step along the road of privatising the NHS.
‘The Bill threatens medical teaching and training and the future of the service.
‘It threatens doctors’ terms and conditions, it threatens patients – it’s a threat to all of us.
‘There’s no reason for us to acquiesce to this mess.
‘If it is passed as legislation, we will bear the consequence.
‘We must have the courage to oppose this mess,’ she concluded to applause.
Speaking against the motion, Dr Paul Miller, BMA Council, said: ‘I’m not prepared to oppose the Bill in its entirety.
‘I’m not prepared to oppose the abolition of PCTs. GPs will do commissioning best.
‘They do a far better job than PCTs or SHAs.’
Speaking for the motion, Dr Gary Marlowe, London Region, said: ‘I would much prefer to see an end to this Bill.
‘I passionately believe the Health and Social Care Bill, even with amendments, will destroy the NHS.
‘It remains the most comprehensive threat to the health service. Changing the role of Monitor will only be a temporary relief from the direction of travel, of privatisation of the NHS.’
Speaking against, Dr Michael Ingram, GPs Committee, said: ‘I’m concerned that there are many aspects of this Bill we don’t like. But I believe that giving power to GPs must be the way forward.’
He added that ‘PCTs are servants of masters’ in government.
Supporting the motion, Dr Pamela Zinkin held up a copy of Nye Bevan’s book ‘In Place of Fear’. She said: ‘I’m old enough to remember this.
‘This is the first time I’ve been to an annual representative meeting. I came because of the Bill. I’m frightened for the first time since this came in.’
Speaking against, Dr Keith Brent, Consultants Committee, said: ‘It’s not just GPs that could do a better job than PCTs or SHAs have done in the past.
‘GPs and other health professionals will do a better job.
‘The Bill is a complete beast, it needs to be entirely rewritten.’
He claimed, however: ‘We are making progress, now is not the time to withdraw it or we’ll miss an opportunity.’
BMA Council Chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum advised the meeting: ‘We debated this motion before at the SRM. We have made progress. We rejected it at the SRM.
‘The key words are “oppose the Bill in its entirety”. That would be a problem. It would put us off the pitch. Continuing dialogue can’t carry on if you oppose the Bill. We need to be given a further chance to amend it.’
In her right of reply, Dr Davis said: ‘We are being offered the whole cake – take it or leave it.
‘We either support the Bill or reject it.
‘GP commissioning will be dictated by the Commissioning Board.
‘A leading private health company said “this is for pillaging the NHS”. The Bill is still a monster. We have to oppose it.’
The conference chairman insisted on an electronic vote and the motion was narrowly lost with 45 per cent ‘Yes’, 51 per cent ‘No’ and four per cent abstentions.
The ARM went on to condemn the arrests and torture of Bahrain medics.
Motion 684 ‘in the light of recent events in Bahrain’ reaffirmed ‘the duty of doctors and other health care staff to treat all patients without discrimination of any kind including political allegiance. We condemn any persecution of health care staff for fulfilling this duty.’
Mover Dr Robin Arnold told the ARM: ‘I was moved to move this motion on hearing of a medic from Bahrain saying she was tortured while she was being held.’
He added: ‘The leading hospital in Manama was near the Pearl Roundabout. When doctors and nurses heard protesters were being beaten they went to their aid.
‘Word went round that injured protesters were prevented from reaching hospital. Doctors were prevented from going to the hospital. Medics were later rounded up in the night by armed and masked forces.’
He added: ‘Doctors have appeared in court charged with taking part in actions aimed at overthrowing the regime.
‘It’s difficult to know the truth but we have to stand against using medicine as a weapon of warfare.’
The motion was passed unanimously with the support of BMA Council Chairman Dr Meldrum.
l The government’s announcement of temporary measures for next year aimed at preserving financial support for medical students is a step in the right direction, but it must become a long-term settlement, medical student leaders said on Tuesday.
David Willetts MP, the Minister for Universities and Science, confirmed in a statement to the House of Commons that the government intends to preserve the current arrangements for the NHS Bursary for the 2012 intake.
This will mean that all medical students starting their course in 2012 will continue to have their tuition fees paid through the NHS Bursary from their fifth year onwards.
The government has also pledged support for graduate entry medical students. These applicants will continue to pay £3,375 for their first year, but any fee charge above this level will be covered by a tuition fee loan provided by the Student Loans Company.
This will mean that graduate students will not face any extra upfront charges as a result of any increases in tuition fees. However, this will mean that they will graduate with more debt.
Talking about this announcement, Karin Purshouse, Chair of the BMA’s Medical Student Committee, said: ‘The BMA has been lobbying the government extensively about this issue in face to face meetings with ministers, in parliament and in the media.
‘We talked to many students who gave us their personal stories, which we passed onto the government.
‘These experiences demonstrated that for many students the hope of becoming a doctor was at risk of being extinguished, despite their obvious talent.
‘Graduate students, of which a substantial number come from low income backgrounds, were in particular danger of being priced out of medicine because of the unfair suggestion that they might have to pay the increased fees in their first year.
‘This was completely unacceptable, as was the months of indecision and delay from ministers on both of these important issues.
‘We are therefore pleased that ministers have listened and given guarantees to applicants for the 2012 intake. These individuals can now get on with planning their applications.
‘However, despite this step forward, the BMA believes that this announcement should not just be a short-term fix, but a long-term solution.
‘Since the government is committed to allowing universities to treble tuition fees, a decision that will leave medical students facing debts of over £70,000, it must also make sure that all those studying medicine have a basic level of support that enables them to get through their studies.
‘We must not reach a situation where access to medical school becomes dependent on the size of a student’s bank balance, rather than the depth of their talent.
‘The BMA will continue to press for the government to give these commitments to all medical students in the future.’