Delegates vote at the BMA Annual Representative Meeting in Brighton
Delegates vote at the BMA Annual Representative Meeting in Brighton

THE BMA’s Chairman, Dr Hamish Meldrum, fired a warning shot at the government yesterday as he opened the Association’s annual conference in Brighton.

His message was don’t mess with our jobs and pensions!

He said: ‘I’ve said that we should be reasonable and responsible when it comes to pay but don’t underestimate us when it comes to protecting doctors’ jobs and pensions.

‘On these, I will not be reasonable if, being reasonable means accepting cuts in the number of doctors or reneging on the recently agreed, revised pension arrangements for NHS staff.

‘At a time of recession, of increasing unemployment, of greater hardship and greater stress, the public needs more doctors, not less.

‘Only two years ago we reached an agreement which raised the age of retirement to 65, capped the contributions of the government, increased the contributions by the higher paid and put the NHS scheme on a sensible and affordable footing for the future.

‘I am not someone who easily resorts to threats, but I warn the government – in a spirit of cooperation and being helpful – if you really want a crisis in the NHS, start meddling with the NHS pension scheme.’

He had begun his speech with another warning to the Tory-led Coalition – ‘Don’t take the economic crisis out on the public sector.’

In his keynote address to around 500 UK doctors, Dr Meldrum spoke of the financial crisis facing the nation and the threats already facing the NHS and its staff.

He said: ‘We can’t blame the public sector for the crisis caused by the world’s speculators and bankers. They caused the disease; they should be given the medicine.’

He continued: ‘We can’t go on promoting a failed market philosophy, with its burgeoning bureaucracy, competitive fragmentation and increasingly perverse incentives. It’s time for a change.

‘We can’t go on pretending to patients that the resources are there to do everything, when they obviously aren’t.

‘We have to be honest with the public and involve them, much more than we currently do, in the decisions about the future direction of their NHS. It’s time for change.’

In his speech, Dr Meldrum highlighted a number of areas that should be reviewed. He said: ‘We will continue to speak out and oppose wasteful practices, ill-conceived plans, dogma-driven policies, knee-jerk cuts and evidence-free solutions.

‘Inco §herent and divisive market-based policies that pit trusts against each other, secondary against primary care, increase costs and, in many cases, duplicate existing services.

‘Lucrative contracts for ISTCs that are paid for up-front yet don’t deliver on activity – often because there was no need for them in the first place – and new, so-called, “GP-led health centres” which often enjoy multiple times the funding per patient of regular GP practices, despite, in many cases, very few patients registering with them.’

Dr Meldrum also called for tighter controls to ensure doctors from overseas wishing to work in the UK meet the appropriate standards of language and competence. He said: ‘The UK has benefited enormously from many overseas doctors, over many years, and will continue to do so. Indeed, we need to do much more to mentor and support these valued colleagues, but the recent Ubani case has shocked us all.

‘It cannot be acceptable for poorly trained, badly regulated doctors whose knowledge of English is about as good as my knowledge of Chinese, to be able to practise, virtually unchallenged, in the UK.’