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As a little girl, my parents despaired of my continual cries of ‘It’s not fair’. And while I rarely stamp my feet now, I still feel this way at the position consultants frequently find themselves in as they try to do their best to care for patients.
From covering rota gaps, working unpaid hours to keep our service safe, having our financial reward snatched away by the pensions crisis, threats to our time for teaching and research and bullying in job planning, I often feel that the injustice is the hardest thing to deal with.
One hugely constructive way to address this is to get involved in medical politics.
Before you say that it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, you are all involved in medical politics by virtue of your NHS role (and a huge thank you for that). But, actually seeing and influencing how the BMA consultants committee lobbies in its priority areas, is something that all of us have the skills to do. I started by joining the committee as a visitor, using the BMA visitors scheme.
We have six places per year for consultants from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales to come along to our meetings and not only listen, but also tell us what matters to them and to their colleagues. It is an incredibly valuable resource of grassroots opinion for our committee.
No experience is necessary, and often what a visitor thinks is a ‘silly question’ is actually gold dust for us. Those new to the committee often bring a fresh perspective which enables us to represent our members to the best of our ability and to prioritise appropriately.
Developing a medico-political interest through the visitors scheme is also a great way of creating a portfolio career, or simply having a year when you learn more about what the current political state of play is and become the expert in your trust. I find it hugely empowering to know that when my trust sends out communications, I now understand what is and isn’t contractual, and am able to support my colleagues.
It isn’t difficult, and our committee members love to explain things to our visitors as it helps us understand how to pitch our messaging. At the end of the year you may even wish to continue by getting elected and then having a vote on the committee. But be careful – this is exactly how I started and now as consultants committee deputy chair it has become an important part of my working week.
We discuss much more than pay and pensions, the NHS long-term plan and doctors’ wellbeing are just some of the other issues discussed. We also have representatives from a range of stakeholders including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, the British International Doctors Association and the Medical Women Federation. All consultants are equally valuable in our work – full time, less than full time, academics, international medical graduates, and those with disabilities.
The UK consultants committee meets four times each session and we have three meetings left in the 2019-20 session, the committee will meet on 12 December 2019, 5 March 2020 and 4 June 2020. All meetings are held from 10.00–16.00 at BMA House, London. Expenses including travel, accommodation and childcare are allowed. Remote participation is available for each committee via video conference or teleconference. Lunch is provided and a warm welcome is guaranteed.
I’ve made friends, am working with interesting and highly intelligent people both in the BMA staff and among our elected members, learnt loads and have become a much more confident and effective communicator. I don’t stamp my feet and shout ‘It’s not fair’ anymore; I describe the 2003 Terms and Conditions of Service or the latest negotiation outcome and prove it. Get empowered and get involved – sign up for the UK consultants committee visitors scheme now.
Helen Fidler is the BMA consultants committee deputy chair