Consultants are seeking concessions on their right to work in private practice as negotiations between the Department of Health and the British Medical Association on new contracts open next week.

The government looks increasingly unlikely to force the issue before the election and may opt to reduce the time consultants are banned from private work from the seven years previously mooted. A DoH spokesperson said the department would push for a private practice ban of 'up to seven years' for newly qualified consultants.

According to Sir Barry Jackson, president of the Royal College of Surgeons, the BMA has instructed a barrister to look into the proposal, which may be an infringement under European law of individuals' liberty to spend their spare time as they like.

HSJ understands that one proposal might be to give newly qualified consultants a choice of one of two contracts. One would allow them to stay on the existing contract, permitting them to work privately as well as in the NHS, but on a lower NHS salary. The other would allow them to opt for a new contract on an enhanced NHS salary, but prevent them working in the private sector for a certain number of years. A BMA spokesperson refused to be drawn on their negotiating stance, but said the idea was a 'possibility'.