Speaking at the BMA's annual representative meeting in Belfast, Dr Chaand Nagpaul said that the NHS owes 'a debt of gratitude to doctors working on goodwill alone'.
Nine in 10 doctors work more than their contracted hours for no extra pay, the BMA chair told the conference. Failing to recognise doctors' hard work with 'proper pay, terms and conditions' would mean 'this goodwill will be lost and you will bring the NHS to a standstill', he warned.
The BMA chair hit out at significant erosion of doctors' pay over the past decade - and warned that doctors were now being 'taxed out of the NHS' by pension tax rules that have forced doctors to reduce their working hours or quit the profession.
Dr Nagpaul said: 'For years the only increase we’ve seen is in the resentment doctors feel towards a self-defeating process of flawed Doctors and Dentists Review Body (DDRB) recommendations and derisory government pay awards.
'We’ve had a decade in which doctors’ pay has been eroded by as much as 30%. The DDRB has failed in its duty to be fair and independent.
'To think that there was once a time when the DDRB resigned en masse because the government interfered with its recommendations. My message to the DDRB is: please, show some self-respect, and do the job you’re supposed to.'
Dr Nagpaul warned: 'It’s bad enough that we’ve suffered a decade of pay cuts, but now the government wants us to pay up to tens of thousands to go into work, even leading some to re-mortgage their homes.
'That’s the effect of the perverse and punitive pensions rules being imposed on many of our most experienced colleagues. Forced to retire, to reduce their workload, to stop covering shifts at a time when they’re desperately needed. By a decision made in Whitehall.'
GPonline reported earlier this year that even GPs in their 30s were being forced to reduce their workload to avoid the heavy tax charges. The government announced earlier this year that it would introduce new pension flexibility to allow doctors to slow the growth of their pension pots - but experts have warned the move does not go far enough.
Dr Nagpaul added: 'We’ve pressed the prime minister and chancellor in the strongest terms, we’ve mounted a sustained media campaign, and with our imminent pensions calculator, we will help doctors to protect themselves.
'I’ll say this to Ministers. If you want doctors to pay to go to work, they won’t. I tell you who pays – our patients, left without doctors in a desperately under-staffed health service. The Treasury is taxing doctors out of the NHS and seriously undermining patient care. It must act now to avert a workforce meltdown.'