Published: 05/12/2002, Volume112 No. 5834 Page 6

A number of trusts interested in implementing the consultant contract on a piecemeal basis have approached the Department of Health.

Following a meeting with health secretary Alan Milburn and health minister John Hutton last Thursday, BMA chair Dr Ian Bogle said Mr Milburn 'did dangle before us a piecemeal introduction of the contract'.

'He said various trusts had been in touch with Whitehall to see if they could go along with the contract.' Dr Bogle stressed: 'We would oppose this introduction.'

NHS Confederation human resources policy manager Alastair Henderson said the confederation had contacted its members about the next steps and found 'there certainly is interest.'

'In general terms, what people were saying was that they were looking for local flexibility within a national framework.' He said there appeared to be particular interest among mental health trusts, where he believed more consultants had voted in favour of the contract.

In a statement released after the meeting, Mr Hutton said the government was considering 'a number of approaches' from interested trusts.

Dr Bogle said he was 'exceedingly glad' that Mr Milburn had not raise the controversial issue of a sub-consultant grade at the meeting.

But Mr Henderson suggested the BMA should take little comfort from this: 'I have not heard the secretary of state say anything that goes back on their earlier interest. That was one of the things we talked to our members about, and in general there was considerable interest in the notion of the generalist consultant.'

The BMA itself has put forward no proposals and has just embarked on consultation of its members about what the main problems in the contract were.

At a press conference on Friday, the BMA appeared angry about Mr Milburn's claim that the contract could not be renegotiated, although this has been the position of both the BMA and government since the ballot started.

Dr Bogle said Mr Milburn had acknowledged that the 'managerialist approach to the contract had failed'. He said: 'I felt he understood the reasons for the rejection and wouldn't have used the term fimanaged contractfl if he hadn't.'

lpaul. stephenson@emap. com