Negotiations for a new consultant contract will not be helped by threats of industrial action, according to the British Medical Association's central consultants' and specialists' committee chair Dr Peter Hawker, who predicted the contract would be in place by the autumn.

Speaking at last week's CCSC annual conference, which attacked the government's plan to limit consultants' private work, Dr Hawker said he believed in 'negotiating with integrity', but that this should not be mistaken for weakness. He said the consultants would not indulge in 'flamboyant rhetoric or megaphone politics', but warned that the health secretary should not underestimate their principles or determination.

Dr Hawker said much progress had been made recently on issues such as workload and, being optimistic of a deal within the next few months, he did not believe that 'meaningless threats are helpful'.

The government's insistence on limiting consultants' private work is likely to continue to be a major sticking point, with the conference voting that a new contract should not be accepted unless the proposed 10 per cent threshold is abolished. But Dr Hawker told HSJ this was not insurmountable, and that he knew of ways in which compromises may be reached.

The positive tone about the likely progress of negotiations came against the backdrop of serious attacks on the Labour government in the run-up to the election. In a widely publicised section of his conference speech, Dr Hawker said: 'If we ask ourselves, would we be satisfied for our families to receive the care that we are often forced to provide, we would have to answer no.'

But he made it clear the criticism was about the inadequacies of the way in which care was provided and that he and his family used the NHS. He claimed consultants were 'pressurised to rush to push through patient numbers, to hit politically inspired targets'.

The conference also voted to oppose public-private partnerships, and issued a vote of no confidence in the General Medical Council's ability to reform itself.

But it rejected a motion attacking NHS managers as 'the weakest link' in the NHS, with speakers emphasising the need for good quality managers.

Chambers of horrors? Making consultants like barristers Last week's central consultants'and specialists'committee conference saw the launch of a British Medical Association discussion document on the possibility of consultants working in chambers, in the same way as barristers, to provide services for the NHS.The BMA said the paper had been produced because of greater interest in the role of the private sector in the NHS.It also said it was a response to proposals to tie newly appointed consultants to an exclusive contract with the NHS.However, it made it clear it was not intended to be a part of contract negotiations.

The paper concludes that self-employed status would be viable, particularly if the government was not hostile.It says it would give consultants the opportunity to cut down on non-clinical work, but warns that medical teaching would suffer.

Changing the Contractual Status of Consultants.BMA.Discussion paper 7. www. bma. org. uk/public/polsrefs. ns