Interview: NHS must remain public, urges new BMA leader

New BMA deputy chairman GP Dr Kailash Chand speaks exclusively to GP about his main priorities.

Dr Chand: reforms marketise the NHS (Photograph: Michelle Jones)

The BMA's new deputy chairman says the union must learn lessons from its industrial action over pensions and its delay in opposing the Health Act.

Retired Greater Manchester GP Dr Kailash Chand is a prominent critic of the ongoing NHS reforms, who forced a House of Commons debate after his e-petition urging the DH to drop the Health Bill attracted 179,438 signatures.

Dr Chand voted against industrial action over government pension cuts because he felt it could be perceived as damaging patient care. But he backs withdrawal from commissioning as a form of protest, an option BMA members at the annual representative meeting in June said could be part of future action.

'The BMA will learn its lessons over the NHS reforms and pensions,' says Dr Chand.

'We have got to be much more in harmony with the membership and with its views on the NHS reforms and pensions.'

On the BMA response to the health reforms, he says: 'I think the BMA knew that it did not engage as hard or as quickly as it should have.'

Dr Chand's appointment last month creates a new team at the top of the BMA after consultant Dr Mark Porter replaced GP Dr Hamish Meldrum as chairman in June.

'Our views on the NHS reforms and pensions are exactly the same,' Dr Chand says. 'I have been on the BMA council with Dr Porter for five years.'

He becomes the third person to take up the post, a role that he says is evolving. Dr Chand also proudly says he is the first Asian appointed either chairman or deputy chairman of the BMA.

He plans to help ensure black and minority-ethnic doctors are well represented by the BMA. 'They are the unsung heroes of the NHS and have kept it going,' Dr Chand says.

Universal healthcare

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he says the track record of new health secretary Jeremy Hunt is 'not inspiring'. He says Mr Hunt must be given a chance, but urged him to give a clear statement on 'where he stood on universal healthcare'.

'From what I have seen - not only in the past two years but in the past decade - parties of all colours behind the scenes have hobnobbed with the private sector,' Dr Chand says.

'These reforms accelerate the marketisation of the NHS. The most important thing is for the NHS to remain public. Everything follows on from there. My reason for standing is to protect the NHS.'

On the BMA's next steps over pension changes, he says: 'We have to collaborate with other unions in open and transparent talks with the government saying "what you are doing is unfair". Jeremy Hunt should sit with us and talk about pensions.'

Since January, Dr Chand has been non-executive chairman of NHS Greater Manchester, where he has been part of clinical commissioning group (CCG) pre-authorisation meetings. 'I'm passionate about clinical engagement but I don't want CCGs to be PCTs mark II, just performance managing GPs. It would be a very retrograde step.'

Dr Chand also believes the BMA must take a more proactive approach to public health issues such as alcoholism and obesity. He also wants it to bridge the divide between primary and secondary care doctors in the face of health reforms that 'pit doctors against each other'.

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