The allegation is likely to inflame doctors at the BMA conference, which is due to debate performance-related pay today. 'As Enoch Powell said: 'The only thing doctors and politicians talk about when they meet is their pay'. The bottom line in this is performance-related pay,' one ministerial source said.
Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health, is ready to reassure doctors that the Government is keen to carry the profession with it over the introduction of performance-related pay in the NHS.
The BMA attacks on the Government united Tory MPs behind ministers, who regard the association as a trade union for doctors. To Tory cheers, Brian Mawhinney, Minister of State for Health, offered to brief the Bishop of Birmingham, who made an outspoken attack on the NHS changes, when he visits the city today. 'If he would like a full briefing . . . I would be willing personally to give it to him.'
Mrs Bottomley was under renewed fire over changes to London hospitals. David Blunkett, the Labour spokesman, alleged in the Commons that a business plan by the Charing Cross Hospital referred to head-hunting a specialist from the Royal Marsden 'to assist in destabilising a competitor - isn't all this about business and commercial ethics and nothing about serving the people?'
Tom Sackville, Under-Secretary for Health, said: 'Unless we attract top level management to run our hospitals, those who will suffer will be the patients.'
Whitehall sources said privately that John Major was concerned about the merger of Guy's with St Thomas', and the threat to the newly-completed Sir Philip Harris wing. Mrs Bottomley's officials said she was making sure that the wing was opened. The London Implementation Group (LIG) was negotiating with the two hospitals to ensure that it was brought into full operation.
But there was a hint from Downing Street that if she is moved in the reshuffle, the Prime Minister may use the opportunity to look again at the changes taking place in London.