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I’m a stoical person, so I never expected to be on the verge of tears half a dozen times at a conference. And yet last weekend at the BMA junior members forum in York (pictured), I was deeply moved by the sheer determination of patients to recover against all odds, and by the passion, dedication and loyalty of my fellow doctors to each other and to the NHS.
We heard from Kate Allatt, a survivor of what should have been a significantly disabling, even terminal, stroke. She wowed us with her tale of recovery despite her physicians’ and therapists’ advice that she would not recover following months of locked-in syndrome. Yet through sheer grit, determination, and a desire to pick up her children again she regained nearly full mobility and function. Utterly inspirational.
We discussed how Hadiza Bawa-Garba, a conscientious, hard-working registrar had been hung out to dry by the institutions she’d sworn an oath to serve. She could have just walked away from her duties that fateful shift, but she fought against the tide of adversity and then was personally attacked for the inevitable consequences of an impossible situation. There was tangible empathy and unanimous support for her from all present, be they angry, upset, or determined for much-needed change.
I reflected on the BMA itself. Yes, it’s the largest trade union for doctors, and one of the strongest overall, but it’s not a magical machine. It is maintained by the commitment of those who take leadership roles within it. It is delivered by the few, for the good of the many. Its structure may seem archaic, but it is made up of committed, passionate volunteers, fellow doctors, many of whom feel crushed by the innumerable pressures in a system which nevertheless we love for its people, values, and achievements. And I am so proud to serve among them.
Your BMA representatives, fellow doctors, make enormous sacrifices to serve their colleagues, union members or otherwise. They sacrifice their time, training, health and emotional wellbeing to a cause they utterly believe in: to helping each other. It is these volunteers who make the union work. And yet some have been systematically targeted and vilified. No human, let alone fellow doctor or armchair warrior has the right to make gratuitous, deplorable, personal attacks on their colleagues.
Let’s not forget, we’re not fighting a playground opponent here. We’re not just shaking hands over a cuppa with Jeremy Hunt and asking for a ‘few more million please, old chum’. We’re dealing with the people with the power. Even if we threaten industrial action, they have whole departments of civil servants dedicated to defeating it.
So frankly, if you hear anyone lambasting those fighting for our livelihoods, the BMA or even other unions, just take a deep breath and remember it is made of people. People with friends, families, foibles and failings. It is not a faceless organisation. Its leaders are not warriors. They are human.
Just like you and me.
James Rowson in an ST1 in general practice in Norfolk and a member of the BMA junior doctors committee