BMA and NHS Confed prepare for contract talks The British Medical Association and the NHS Confederation have taken the first steps towards direct negotiations on the new GP contract after the government's decision earlier this month to bow out of the talks.The confederation has confirmed that it will lead negotiations and is inviting members who can make a contribution to express their interest.

The BMA's general practitioners committee has voted to go into contract negotiations with the confederation, calling for 'a rapid and effective start'.Committee chair Dr John Chisholm said: 'We can expect, in dealing with the confederation's national team, to be dealing with experienced and skilled negotiators.This is essential if we are to make effective, speedy and lasting progress.'

Under-representation of ethnic minorities still rife A survey of public sector managers conducted for Unison reveals that black and ethnic minority populations are still under-represented in the workplace, with only half of employers satisfied that the ethnic composition of their workforce represents that of the local community.The survey found that, while most health authorities, local authorities and other public sector employers had equal opportunities policies, these did not translate into action.Only 11 per cent had set targets for change.The survey coincided with the publication of government guidance on tackling racial harassment in the NHS, with employers obliged to meet national standards.

Paediatrician suspended over epilepsy diagnoses A consultant paediatrician has been suspended by University Hospitals of Leicester trust amid concerns about his diagnosis and drug treatment of epilepsy in children.Case notes of all 8,500 patients cared for by Dr Andrew Holton are to be studied by two consultants from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, who will carry out a review of his work.The move was taken after concerns were raised by Dr Holton's colleagues.A spokesman for the trust said it had received many letters and telephone calls of support for Dr Holton.

Multiple Sclerosis society slams NICE tardiness The Multiple Sclerosis society has attacked the National Institute for Clinical Excellence over guidance delays on the use of beta interferon and glatiramer acetate.As NICE board members met in Cardiff for its annual general meeting last week, they faced demonstrations from MS sufferers who claim they are becoming 'too disabled'to qualify for the drugs.After more than two years'work, a final decision on whether the drugs should be NHS-funded is due in late autumn.A spokesman for the Multiple Sclerosis society, whose campaign has been backed by Liberal Democrat health spokesman Paul Burstow, said: 'These drugs are licensed and have been proved in clinical trials.It is appalling that more and more people will be denied them as NICE bungles its way on.'

Warning against national roll-out of walk-in centres A King's Fund report has argued that NHS walk-in centres should not be established nationwide until their 'current inconsistencies'have been resolved.The report examined the nine walk-in centres in London and found that all had experienced severe difficulties in recruiting staff, and that in some cases neither the public nor local GPs knew what the centres were for.It also points out that nurses found the work 'rewarding but highly stressful'and called on the Department of Health to ensure adequate training for staff and to identify the core skills needed.King's Fund director of primary care Dr Steve Gillam said: 'Walk-in centre staff are justly proud of the care they offer to the public.But not all walk-in centres are providing good value for money.Many of their services are readily available in GP surgeries, pharmacies and hospitals.'

NHS Walk-in Centres in London by Lesley Mountford and Rebecca Rosen, from the King's Fund bookshop 020-7307 2591.£5.99