Opening the BMA special representative meeting in London today, Dr Hamish Meldrum said representatives must use the ‘opportunity wisely’.
He warned that most commentators say it is ‘unlikely’ the government will ‘buckle and withdraw the Bill’.
He said: ‘What we have to decide today is how to move on from here, how we are most likely to achieve change, how we support our colleagues – and yes, how we best defend our NHS.
‘Whatever we do today we must remember that, above all, we are medical professionals. We must search for the best outcomes for our patients as well as the profession, even in the most difficult situations.’
He also warned taking a stance that is too strong against the reforms could lead to the government backing down on its proposal to hand GPs responsibility for commissioning.
He said: ‘You could be left with the worst of both worlds – a continuing market in healthcare, with increasing competition from the private sector, but with even less medical influence than we have now.’
Dr Meldrum received a standing ovation when he said the BMA does not support the Bill.
He said: ‘What we have is an often contradictory set of proposals, driven by ideology rather than evidence, enshrined in ill-thought-through legislation and implemented in a rush during a major economic downturn.'
Click here for Dr Meldrum's full speech