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Action under way to bring about cultural change within the BMA

We're acting to address the issues raised by BMA members and staff as part of a recent independent review into sexism and sexual harassment at the BMA.

Both BMA council and the BMA's board of directors have met to discuss the outcome of the review and are committed to taking forward all 31 of the recommendations and implementing these as quickly as possible. 

Action already taken:

  • The setting up of an independent 24-hour support telephone line so that any member experiencing sexism - or indeed any poor behaviour - can speak to someone in confidence, and independent of the BMA.
  • Establishment of a new independent complaint investigation process carried out by an experienced external firm, so that members and staff alike can be assured of impartiality.
  • Begun the process of appointing an independent guardian of safe working, so all members and staff have someone they can speak to, face-to-face, about any concerns they have regarding behaviours.

The wide-ranging cultural change needed will be supported by our recently launched Equality Matters programme, which included the introduction of online learning modules covering areas from calling out poor behaviour to addressing unconscious bias.

The work is just a part of the BMA's wider commitment to ensuring equality for all characteristics in the BMA and of our campaigning to bring about equality for all across the NHS, to make it a better and fairer place for everyone to work.


Next steps

Henrietta Hughes, National Freedom to Speak Up Guardian for the NHS in England met with the board on 20 November to discuss her role in overseeing guardians in arm’s length bodies, the NHS and the independent sector across England.

The BMA will be working closely with Dr Hughes and her team to learn best practice and improve the BMA's systems as we introduce our own guardian of safe working. 

BMA board and Henrietta Hughes

The board of directors also agreed to establish an implementation and oversight group, which will track progress and measure the impact of the 31 recommendations.

A number of these will be able to be implemented immediately, while others will require further discussion with branch of practice committees, and some will need approval of the BMA organisation committee and/or the annual representative meeting due to article and by-law changes. 


Behaviours and working together

Calling out poor behaviour


Strengthening the role of Women in the BMA

Complaints and the resolution process

Every member of the BMA must take responsibility for their behaviour.

All doctors are colleagues and should be treated with respect.

Respect should be shown by all genders to all genders, which is also the case for those with protected characteristics and political beliefs. 

Staff are part of the team and as such should be treated with respect.

Shouting is never acceptable.

Consideration should be given to implementation of best practice for ensuring diversity and gender balance.


Everyone should call out bad behaviour when they see it. 

Chairs and committee members should watch for bad behaviour at meetings or delegate it to a relevant person.

If a complaint is made it should be dealt with.

Staff should be protected and empowered to call out bad behaviour.

Staff should be trained to have difficult conversations with doctors and other members of staff.

HR policies should be reviewed.


Every committee member must undergo training in diversity, equality, anti-bullying, active-bystander and collegiate working.

Further mandatory training for committee chairs to develop skills in managing meetings, identifying and dealing with bad behaviour and understanding the principles of fairness and equality in making committee appointments.

Committee members should be subject to periodic feedback from members and staff along the lines of a 360 appraisal.

Appointment practices should be monitored. 

Meetings should not take place without everyone eligible to be there being invited and notified.

Committee members should be prevented from re-election to that committee after a suggested 12 years and restricted from the number of committees they can sit on.

Consideration should be given to introducing multi-member constituencies for regional seats.

Consideration should be given to holding meetings around tables, rather than in the council chamber and more break-out groups should be held.


A BMA women’s group should be established to provide a forum to support and mentor each other. 

Committees should introduce quotas or minimum numbers of women in order to better reflect the percentages of men and women in each branch of practice.

Women should be encouraged to stand in elections and reserved seats should be introduced for those who have not previously been elected onto a committee (male or female).

Chairs should be encouraged to call more women to speak in committee meetings, and to emulate the example of GPC and JDC in trying to call a woman to speak first.


All listservers should be effectively monitored by assessors for speedy determination of complaints.

Responsibility for the administration of the external complaints process should be moved to the HR department.

Adequate support, counselling and protection for complainants should be provided.

Resolution panels should be widened to included doctors not on council or regular committees.

If a complaint is made about a doctor but is met by a counter-complaint it should still be investigated. 

A booklet explaining the resolution process should be produced and be easily accessible on the website.

If a complainant wishes to remain anonymous enquires in the complaint should still be made as far as possible.

Where an anonymous complaint is made it should be pursued only where circumstances appear to merit it.





  • Report

    In April this year the BMA commissioned a fully independent review into concerns raised by BMA members who had been subject to sexist behaviour and sexual harassment.

    The review was led by Daphne Romney QC, who was also asked to make recommendations to address gender bias and harassment in the BMA, drawing on examples of best practice. 

    Download Daphne Romney's report 

  • Background


    The BMA has a stated commitment to creating a culture that is respectful and inclusive of all members and to attracting and retaining members who reflect and represent its membership. We are committed to promoting equal rights and opportunities and supporting diversity.

    On 21 March 2019, GP Online reported on comments made on social media regarding allegations of sexist comments being made to senior female BMA representatives at the LMC UK conference in Belfast. The BMA responded by saying how seriously it treats comments from members that fall below expected standards.

    On 1 April 2019, the same website published a news article, which described how female BMA doctors had experienced sexism and harassment, through inappropriate comments and unwanted physical contact. It was accompanied by an article by the same two elected female members of the GP committee who posted the earlier social media comments. It alleged that their own experience, those reported in the other article and the social media reaction to their earlier posts demonstrated that there was a culture of sexism within a branch of practice committee and, by implication, the BMA more generally. They said that this had discouraged or prevented many female members from getting involved with the BMA or continuing to be so.  

    These articles were widely reported on by national and international press and media over the week commencing 1 April 2019. 

    The BMA responded to this by condemning behaviour of the type reported on 1 April and committed to a fully independent investigation into the matters raised.


    Independent investigation

    The independent investigation will review the above concerns raised following allegations of sexism and sexual harassment by members (and past members) of the BMA’s GP committee. It will also make recommendations to address gender bias and harassment in the BMA, drawing upon examples of best practice. These recommendations will be published.

    It is important for there to be confidence in the investigation being wholly independent and therefore it will be carried out by an investigator who has not previously been involved with or worked for the BMA in the past.  


    The investigation

    The terms of reference for the investigation are to:

    • Investigate the allegations made by members (and past members) of the BMA GP committee, as reported in the media, in relation to sexism and sexual harassment in the BMA.
    • Assess the BMA’s actions taken on any reported incidents on sexism or sexual harassment. 
    • Identify any specific incidents that should be scrutinised under the BMA’s code of conduct processes and have not already been so.
    • Assess why incidents had not been reported to the code of conduct process and with any recommendations for improving the system (note: a review with recommendations for changes to the code of conduct complaint process is due to be concluded in May)
    • Assess the current degree of sexism/gender inequality in the BMA, including comparisons with other organisations or sectors.
    • Assess the BMA’s work and policies in promoting gender equality.
    • Assess any organisational or systemic factors in the BMA that fail to promote gender equality.
    • Make specific recommendations to address sexism or sexual harassment in the BMA, drawing upon examples of best practice. 


    Operational scope

    • The independent investigation will consider the experiences of BMA members and staff, covering sexism and sexual harassment during their interactions on BMA business.
    • The investigation will be open to confidential feedback from all BMA members and staff on the matters within its purview. 
    • This will include seeking detailed feedback from those who have made complaints in the media as well as those who have responded to the statements that the BMA has already made to the press and membership. 
    • When considering feedback on individual incidents, the investigation will consider whether the complaints and disciplinary procedure in place at the time were used. The press reports refer to attitudes among members to these processes and so it is important to understand members’ experience of them and, if they chose not to use them, why this was so.
    • Any individual incidents of sexual discrimination and/or harassment where the actions of an identified individual/individuals appear to fall short of the standards of behaviour expected of members will be referred for appropriate action under the BMA code of conduct.
    • It is expected that the investigator will be able to conclude the investigation within a two-month timeframe.