NINE months ago Tony Blair and Health Secretary Alan Milburn launched a ten year plan for the National Health Service, following extensive consultation with individuals and representative organisations involved in the NHS. The plan was accompanied by a document declaring: “We look forward to working with the government in modernising the NHS and ensuring change is delivered across health and social care. All of us have a critical role in making this happen.” Among those who signed this declaration was Ian Bogle, chairman of the British Medical Association.

Yet last Friday Dr Bogle announced that the BMA would be balloting its 36'000 members to ask whether they would resign from the NHS if their terms of employment are not immediately improved.

The BMA bridles when it is called the doctor's trade union but Dr Bogle's tactics are reminiscent of Arthur Scargill and the old National Union of Mineworkers at their worst. The ballot is to be organised so that the result will be declared at the end of May or beginning of June – just in time for the assumed election date of June 7. Blackmail is the name of this game. If there were a decent opposition with a chance of winning the election Mr Blair might, like Ted Heath in 1974 with the miners, feel that he had to go to the country asking, Who runs the country – the government or the doctors?

The BMA does not seem to understand that the medical profession as a whole has never been held in lower regard than it is at the moment despite the comitted efforts of thousands of individual doctors. Professional standards are slipping and discipline is not being maintained. These are the issues that the BMA should be addressing.

RAY FLEMING

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