Published: 30/01/2003, Volume II3, No. 5840 Page 7

The government has abandoned plans to restrict further the amount of private work consultants carry out, in what NHS director of human resources Andrew Foster admitted is a 'major pullback' from its initial position.

Details of a code of conduct on private work are due to be published by the government in March, but Mr Foster acknowledged this week that the government had lost the battle to restrict private work, particularly in the first seven years for new consultants.He said: 'We have understood the responses of consultants. It recognises that was a very unhappy part of the contract.'

But speaking last week, after the government announced new contractual arrangements over the head of the British Medical Association, Mr Foster said that if a number of trusts introduced the contract and it was seen to be successful, its popularity might spread across the country.

Under new arrangements from April, trusts have three options:

To introduce the contract if they can show the support of consultants.

To negotiate local incentive schemes awarding performancerelated pay on an annual basis.

To put more money into clinical excellence awards.

Around 50 trusts across the country have said they want to introduce the contract.The money for the contractual arrangements has already been distributed to primary care trusts (news, pages 4-5, 23 January).

Mr Foster said he anticipated that there would be further takeups of the contract in 2004, if the trusts that led the way this year had found the contract had 'gone fine and dandy'. He said that because the incentive schemes were annual, trusts could try them for a year, then transfer to the permanent contract.

BMA chair Dr Ian Bogle said he was encouraged at the reopening of a 'constructive dialogue on the way forward for consultants'.

But newly elected BMA consultants' committee chair Dr Paul Millar said: 'I will be arguing strongly that preserving the national character of the NHS is best achieved by national agreement on a national contract.' He said he did 'not believe annual payments for meeting performance targets are the right way to reward consultants'.

As well as the code on private work, there will also be new disciplinary and suspension procedures published shortly. The government has also recommended a pay rise of around 2.5 per cent to the doctors' and dentists' pay review body.