This year's ethics debate centred on issues of patient consent . Dr Michael Wilks, chair of the BMA's ethics committee, said much of the onslaught against doctors over the past year stemmed from poor communication with patients, the public and the government.

'We need to explain more widely the uncertainties of medicine. . .and unpredictability of outcome.

'By emphasising uncertainty and unpredictability, we may well increase trust, rather than going on pretending that we can meet unrealistic expectations.'

Doctors called for major public education campaigns on organ donation and 'do not resusitate' orders. Dr Fiona Randall from East Dorset said the BMA had pushed for a system of 'presumed consent' for organ donation, so the public had to be informed about 'what it is presumed to be consenting to'.

Doctors also called for a public awareness campaign on the reality of resuscitation in a debate on 'DNR' orders, prompted by recent controversy in Portsmouth, where a woman found her notes had been marked not for resuscitation, without her knowledge.

They also said juniors should not be 'cajoled' into making resuscitation decisions and asked the ethics committee to look at a system of written consent.

Dr Alex Freeman from Portsmouth said the 'reality' was that many DNR orders were made by 'inexperienced junior doctors at the request of nurses, often in the middle of busy on-call rotas'.

Dr Wilks told a later press conference that there were no complaints about existing guidance on resuscitation, but the BMA needed to find out why it was not being followed. Often, he suggested, it was because doctors found it difficult to discuss sensitive issues with patients.