Hospital consultants and surgeons described yesterday the Government's plan to ban newly qualified consultants from practising privately for seven years as "insulting" and warned it would lead to a "brain drain" from the NHS.

Hospital consultants and surgeons described yesterday the Government's plan to ban newly qualified consultants from practising privately for seven years as "insulting" and warned it would lead to a "brain drain" from the NHS.

British Medical Association (BMA) leaders said that the proposal for an exclusive National Health Service contract was unnecessary, contradictory and irrelevant to patient care.

The proposal, published last month, is aimed at reducing NHS waiting lists.

"Consultants regard this proposal as irrelevant and insulting," said Dr Peter Hawker, the chairman of the BMA consultants' committee. "They work extremely long hours for the NHS and there is no evidence the new generation of consultants currently in training will behave differently.

"Restricting what doctors do in their own free time is not going to result in more patients being treated in the NHS. It simply deprives patients of choice and denies them access to consultants who have had the benefit of training in the latest techniques and technologies. It will not work."

When Alan Milburn, the Secretary of State for Health, presented the proposal, he was unapologetic about plans to ban new consultants from working in private practice, claiming that such lucrative work should be a reward, not a right.

The BMA has written to John Denham, the Health Minister, requesting a meeting as soon as possible to discuss the impact of the so-called National Plan.

"We have had some very angry calls and letters from specialist registrars," Dr Hawker said. "These are the consultants for the future and I share their anger at the Government's attitude towards them. They want to use their skills to the full benefit of patients and the BMA will support them."

The Association of Surgeons in Training (ASIT) and the British Orthopaedic Trainees Association said the idea that after years of training within the NHS they must "repay the state" was "contemptible". The two organisations bring together the majority of 4,000 specialist registrars currently training to be consultant surgeons.

David O'Regan, co-president of the ASIT, said that many trainee consultants were considering moving abroad and warned of a "brain drain" of newly qualified consultants. "They are actively discussing an alternative way of pursuing careers, either by moving abroad or by setting up consortia outside the NHS," he said.

Private practice is lucrative for many consultants who divide their time between NHS patients and private patients. "There are certainly some surgeons who would be happy to have an exclusive contract with the NHS but it would have to be a very different NHS from today's underfunded service," Mr O'Regan said.

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