Doctors vote for English health bill to be withdrawn

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 15 March 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1701
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. 1London

Doctors attending the BMA’s special representative meeting today in London voted overwhelmingly for the withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill, saying that the current plans for reform are too extreme and too rushed and will have a negative effect on the care of patients.

Representatives also backed a motion calling on the BMA to lobby against the introduction of legislation that obliges commissioners to always seek “any willing provider” and calling for the NHS to be the preferred provider wherever NHS provision is accepted to be of good quality.

The meeting also called on the health secretary to:

  • Call a halt to the proposed top-down reorganisation of the NHS

  • Accept that there is no electoral mandate for the introduction of such changes

  • Recognise that primary care trusts are losing crucial staff, that many of the trusts are at risk of collapse, and that services are at risk, and

  • Ensure that all financial transactions between the NHS and external contractors are made public.

Hamish Meldrum, the BMA’s chairman of council, received a standing ovation when he told the meeting, “Let no one be in any doubt: I do not support this bill; the BMA does not support this bill; the profession, as shown by our recent MORI poll and in meetings up and down the country, does not support this bill.”

However, Dr Meldrum cautioned that the coalition government was unlikely to buckle and to withdraw the bill. “We need to be realistic about where we are now and what we wish for, because, even without this bill, the way the NHS is being run in England is far from perfect.”

He said that the BMA had achieved a modest but significant change to the legislation in getting rid of the clauses that would have allowed price competition (BMJ 2011;342:d1481, 7 Mar, doi:10.1136/bmj.d1481). He described this change as “a small step in the right direction.” And he added that there were still opportunities for further changes during the legislative process.

Calling for the withdrawal of the Health and Social Care Bill, Andy Thornley, from the BMA’s agenda committee, said, “This is not evolution, it is not a tweak. It is too much at the wrong time and too quickly. The bill is an enormous mistake. I think it is not possible to tweak or tinker with this bill; it needs to be thrown out.”

Ian Banks, a BMA council member, said that the bill put the entire NHS in danger. He told the meeting: “If someone is trying to strangle you, there is only so long that you can say, ‘Would you mind using only one hand, or would you mind using a breath freshener?’ At some point you are going to have to give them the old Glasgow kiss [a headbutt]. These are not reasonable people; we must not allow them to destroy our NHS.”

Proposing the motion against the obligation to seek any willing provider, Beverley Day, of the Birmingham division, said, “If [the regulator] Monitor enforces the competition rules doctors could be embroiled in disputes.” And she said that there was a danger that private companies would cherrypick the profitable, low risk services. “We have seen private companies reject patients if they have a history of mental illness or because their BMI is too high,” she said.

As the BMJ went to press the meeting had still to vote on what action doctors should take in opposing the bill.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d1701

View Abstract