Consultants have reiterated their opposition to government plans to restrict their freedom to work in the private sector by issuing their own proposals to reform the consultant contract.

The NHS plan says consultants will not be allowed to work in the private sector for 'perhaps seven years' after they are appointed.

But British Medical Association consultants' committee chair Dr Peter Hawker said it was determined to 'preserve the freedom of individual doctors to spend their spare time as they wish'.

His comments were made days before the government made clear its determination to lock doctors into the NHS by issuing proposals to abolish the merit award scheme for senior doctors.

It would be replaced by a new bonus scheme intended to reward doctors who commit solely to the NHS.

In its submission to the doctors' and dentists' pay review body, it says it is close to agreeing a new scheme to ensure that the number of consultants receiving awards increases from about half to about two-thirds, with 'consultants who are contracted exclusively to the NHS' having 'accelerated access to proportionately bigger bonuses'.

It says it also wants to develop the 'portfolio career' concept for doctors and help with flexible working, to tackle any recruitment and retention problems while 'rewarding commitment to the NHS'.

The BMA last week set out plans for a timelimited contract, 'probably' based on 10 sessions that would include some on-call work and some flexible sessions for duties such as meetings.

This will be used as the basis for negotiation with the government.

Additional work outside these sessions would be contracted for and paid for separately 'until the consultant workforce is substantially increased', and consultants would remain free to do private work 'in their own time'.

The NHS plan suggests seven fixed sessions a week, with trusts funding additional sessions as needed.

If this is accepted and other reforms agreed, then existing consultants should be able to continue in private practice, the plan says.

Dr Hawker said the BMA believed it could prove there was 'no systematic abuse' of the ability of consultants to do private work outside the NHS, and said the government needed to 'stop messing around and move forward on delivering a service based around quality'.

The General Medical Council said this week that it had accepted the 'broad principles' identified by a working group for a major shake-up of its structure.

A GMC working party has called for the scrapping of the current 104-member body, saying it should be replaced by a smaller board accompanied by a larger standing conference of doctors and lay people.