NHS chiefs should avoid undertaking “slash and burn” cuts in their bid to save money, the British Medical Association has said.

BMA chairman Dr Hamish Meldrum conceeded that health boards faced difficult times.

Planned reforms of the NHS in England, pressure on NHS finances across the UK and changes to the NHS pension scheme are major issues facing the profession in the months ahead.

Dr Meldrum said the UK government had made some positive changes on NHS reform - but stressed any development must not be thrown away with “short-term” cost cutting of frontline care.

He said the challenge of ever-increasing demand, finite resources and the most difficult financial situation facing the NHS - in all four nations - “is the biggest it has faced in its 63 years.

“There is a huge difference between adapt and change and slash and burn, between carefully planned reorganisations and knee-jerk closures and redundancies.”

He said at the BMA’s conference in St David’s Hall, Cardiff, that many doctors had grave concerns about the revised Health and Social Care Bill - which could see GPs financially rewarded for how well they manage NHS budgets.

“Doctors are not afraid of competition - in fact, they thrive on it,” he added.

“They want to know they are working as well, if not better than their colleagues and they need fair, effective and evidence-based data on health outcomes to provide them with that information.

“But that is quite different from the unfettered, free market of the industrial world, because the NHS must never be like that - you only have to look across the Atlantic to see why, and why we will continue to resist all attempts to make it like that.”