Junior doctors have threatened industrial action against a proposed new sub-consultant specialist grade.

The British Medical Association's junior doctors conference last week voted for the union to ballot 'all its working members' on industrial action if the new grade - proposed in the government's consultation document on the review of workforce planning - 'were to become a reality'.

Delegates condemned the sub-consultant specialist grade as 'inferior' to consultant posts and said it would 'undermine the value of specialist training'.

Dr Fiona Kew said the proposal was 'discriminatory, divisive' and would 'reduce the quality of patient care'.

Junior doctors' committee chair Andrew Hobart called instead for more consultant posts. 'An increasing proportion of hospital care must be delivered by fully trained doctors, ' he said. 'Provided there are enough consultants, we can have a consultant based service and go on to have a consultant-delivered service.'

Dr Paul Flynn, who works in obstetrics and gynaecology, told HSJ there was 'an awful lot of anger' among juniors about the scheme. 'It condemns us to a grade from which there's no hope of progression, 'he said.

And he warned that trusts would use it as an excuse 'to never employ another consultant'.

Delegates were concerned that women, and part-timers in particular, could become trapped in the grade, while 'white, male, middle-class' doctors went on to become consultants .

Dr Nick Jenkins called it 'a proposal for elitism in the NHS', while Dr Paul Thorpe called on the BMA to unite against this 'cruddy, discredited little scheme'.

The conference demanded the resignation of Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Professor Robert Shaw, a strong advocate of the proposal, against the advice of BMA council chair Dr Ian Bogle.

Dr Bogle said the 'personal condemnation' of a president of one of the royal colleges would 'not be helpful', in the wake of the Academy of Royal Colleges' suspension of its membership of the Joint Consultants Committee and an attack on the General Medical Committee by the BMA's consultants committee conference.

But BMA council member Dr Trevor Pickersgill said: 'I say this to the president of the RCOG. This idea - it stinks. We will fight it all the way.'

Delegates agreed that the proposal was 'a device to enable the RCOG to avoid its responsibilities for the workforce crisis in this specialty'. Dr Pickersgill also warned that the government's A Health Service for All the Talents was 'not a consultation document - it's a green paper in waiting'.

The conference passed an emergency motion to 'disassociate junior doctors from the words and actions of Rodney Ledward'as well as from 'additional distress' caused by a radio interview in which he described himself as 'a first-class consultant' and dismissed concerns about his performance as 'journalese'.

In an earlier press statement, Dr Bogle had apologised to ex-patients and relatives for 'one of the most breathtakingly disgraceful interviews I have ever heard'.

The junior doctors also attacked 'a media-feeding frenzy' in the wake of the Ledward case. 'Doctors are being demonised by unattributable briefings which are undoubtedly coming from Number 10, ' said Dr Pickersgill.

Dr Hobart added: 'The government seem to be briefing behind the scenes and then in public they're all sweetness and light.'

In a gesture of their own, the juniors voted through a 'before lunchtime' motion for 'a good old-fashioned witchhunt' followed by tarring and feathering the 'twits responsible for the manpower crisis in obstetrics and gynaecology'.