THIS WEEK

The British Medical Association has used its annual representative meeting to voice concern over the government's penchant for the private sector and to launch scathing attacks on the prime minister and health secretary.

Council members also sent out mixed messages about negotiations with the government over GP contracts. While GP committee chair Dr John Chisholm said health minister John Hutton - now responsible for primary care - had made clear his 'desire to see progress', BMA chair Dr Ian Bogle said negotiations had yet to start.

'It is early days, ' Dr Bogle said.

'GPs are quite a long way behind in the negotiating process. It has not yet started, but we will have to catch up.'He also remained tightlipped about the on-going discussions over consultant contracts, saying they were being kept deliberately 'low-key'.

But Dr Peter Hawker, chair of the central consultants' and specialists' committee who is leading the talks with the Department of Health, hinted that progress was about to speed up, and that negotiations could be resolved by this autumn. He told HSJ: 'We have a large number of meetings which will run until the autumn. They are going well. The most important thing is that we are well on the path to getting this thing sorted out.'

The government came under fire, with support for a motion expressing concern for its 'unabated enthusiasm' for investment from the private sector.

London GP Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the Health and Social Care Act 'opened the doors for private companies to directly provide NHS clinical services, employ NHS doctors'.

'Beefing up the private sector is at total odds to the government's aim to retain doctors in the health service - it will inevitably result in a migration of doctors to private hospitals, with a ready-made exit route for NHS consultants disgruntled with a new contract.'

His comments came on a day of high passion following Dr Bogle's opening address in which he made a stinging attack on both the government and the General Medical Council.

Dr Bogle spoke angrily about health secretary Alan Milburn's 'shockingly hysterical reaction' to the Alder Hey organ retention scandal and the role the GMC had allegedly played in 'persecuting' doctors involved.

He told prime minister Tony Blair: 'Your time is running out.'

Bristol could happen again, warn doctors

Doctors cannot guarantee that there will be no repeat of the Bristol scandal, according to Dr Peter Hawker, chair of the BMA's central consultants'and specialists'committee.

Dr Hawker said it was unrealistic to expect the NHS to function as a 'utopia'.He said: 'The Bristol inquiry will report soon and I have no doubt that it will make uncomfortable reading for the profession, NHS management and government alike.'

He added: 'We know that the overwhelming majority of doctors do a good job under difficult circumstances and intolerable pressure.With that secure foundation we can acknowledge that there are such things as bad doctors, that errors can occur, that systems will fail, without denigrating our entire profession.

'What we must not do in the light of Bristol is claim that all this was in the past and it will never happen again.

'Despite all of our systems, all our safeguards, we cannot guarantee perfection.'

This week the Bristol inquiry released - for the first time - part of its findings to health secretary Alan Milburn and a 'very small group of named senior people within the Department of Health'.

The public inquiry is due to report to Parliament before it goes into recess on 24 July.