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Cherish a great and proud profession

By Hamish Meldrum

My five years as BMA council chairman are now at an end. I always knew the role would have its ups and downs, but I certainly did not foresee the turbulent few years we have just experienced.

I take my leave as chairman with a huge mixture of emotions — joy and despair, anger and frustration, anticipation and excitement. There’s also, especially where we are with NHS pensions at present, a feeling of leaving a job that is only half done.

But, despite that, I’m eternally grateful to have had the privilege of leading a wonderful profession comprising people from all walks of life and all backgrounds.

I know it’s an overused phrase but we are at one of the most critical times for the NHS, for the profession and even for the BMA.

As I step down, I want the government to know: doctors will never give up on their NHS.

The BMA will monitor closely what is happening to the health service, not just in England, where the Health and Social Care Act reforms are posing an enormous threat to the ethos of the NHS, but across the devolved nations, where the financial squeeze is taking its toll.

We will be working for our patients, looking out for our patients, and fighting for our patients, because the key purpose of the medical profession is to help make society a better place. And we will not allow politicians to interfere with that, whatever reforms they propose.

I also want to urge the profession to value our young doctors.

As BMA council chairman, attending the meetings and conferences of all branches of practice, I have noticed the enthusiasm, excitement and optimism of medical students and junior doctors gradually being replaced by the cynicism, world weariness and despair of GPs and hospital seniors.

While some of that may be part of the natural process of ageing, of experience, of years of hard work, it does appear to me to be a sad indictment of the way we treat our younger doctors — and in saying ‘we’, I believe that the profession cannot duck its share of that responsibility.

So, support our young doctors, encourage them, help them gain and sustain their sense of vocation, and their sense of professional pride.

And if you do, even amid the gloom and the doom, there will be reasons to be optimistic — even reasons to be cheerful.

Medicine is a great profession, a proud profession, a profession with a great history, a history we must cherish — not in some sort of sentimental and backward-looking way, but as a strong foundation on which to build and to move forward.

It’s also a profession I have been hugely privileged and proud to be a part of for 40 years — and even prouder to lead over these past five years. I wish you and it, well.

Hamish Meldrum is outgoing BMA council chairman

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