Split from NHS to be debated by consultants

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THE British Medical Association is to examine how hospital consultants could quit the NHS and hire themselves back as independent contractors, writes Nicholas Timmins.

The move reflects the 'huge dissatisfaction' that senior hospital doctors feel with the NHS reforms, Mr John Chawner, chairman of the BMA's senior hospital doctors' committee, said yesterday.

A call for consultants to consider such a move - possibly setting themselves up in groups on the lines of barristers in chambers - is to be debated by the consultants' annual conference in June.

With at least 40 per cent of doctors at the meeting expected to back the idea, according to Mr Chawner, the BMA is to study it in detail. 'I would very much regret it if this happened, but it is a possibility,' he said.

Contracting with the NHS, he maintained, would allow doctors to insist that patients were treated according to clinical need. At present doctors were being told to treat trivial cases ahead of major ones under the Patients' Charter.

It would also restore consultants' freedom of speech when managers were stopping them speaking out on patients' behalf and it would reassure patients that treatment was being decided 'on clinical grounds, not on managerial grounds'.

Any move by consultants to quit the NHS would be unprecedented. While GPs have threatened resignation, consultants have never gone further than a 'work to contract'.