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.