The British Medical Association’s council chairman has called for unity among the profession as doctors prepare to vote on their responses to the government’s health reforms

Hamish Meldrum was given a standing ovation by doctors as he opened proceedings at the special representative’s meeting held in London today.

Doctors whooped and cheered as he told the meeting: “Be in no doubt, I do not support this bill, the profession does not support this bill and the BMA doesn’t support this bill.”

But he added: “What we have to decide today is how we move on from here, how we’re most likely to achieve change, how we support our colleagues and how best to defend our NHS.”

Dr Meldrum warned the meeting that wholesale rejection of the bill could weaken doctors’ position, giving them less opportunity to influence policy.

And he said that completely rejecting the bill would not solve the problems currently faced by the profession and the NHS.

He said he welcomed and respected the wide range of opinions within the profession but urged doctors to stand together. “We are at our strongest when we’re united”, he said.

He added: “Whetever we do today we must remember that after all we are the medical profession and we must search for the best options for our patients as well as our profession even in this most difficult and challenging situation.”

When doctors arrived at the meeting they were greeted by a group of protesters from other unions with banners shouting at them to oppose cuts in health services.