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The history of the BMA

For over 175 years, the BMA has represented doctors and promoted good healthcare for all.

It was formed in the days before anaesthetics and antibiotics, when avoidable and early deaths from disease or injury were common.

The British Medical Association was founded in 1832 by Sir Charles Hastings (pictured), a doctor in Worcester, as the Provincial and Medical Surgical Association. Hastings wanted a ‘friendly and scientific’ forum where doctors could advance and exchange medical knowledge.

In 1855, the organisation became the BMA, and its weekly medical publication became the British Medical Journal. An early leading role for the BMA was in the Medical Act of 1858, which created the General Medical Council and the Medical Register.


20th century

The BMA began the twentieth century with a new constitution. The Representative Body met for the first time at the annual representative meeting (ARM), still the Association’s foremost policy-making body.

During both world wars, the BMA organised medical services for military forces and civilian populations.

In 1925 the BMA moved to its current headquarters, BMA House in Tavistock Square, London. The opening ceremony was attended by King George V and Queen Mary (pictured).

The National Health Service was created shortly after the second world war. The BMA supported the principle but objected to health minister Aneurin Bevan’s initial plan to impose the new system on doctors.

In the 1950s and sixties, the BMA gave evidence to government inquiries leading to reform of laws on divorce and homosexuality. Major enquires by the government and the BMA resulted in the establishment of the independent pay review body for doctors and dentists.

In 1974, the BMA was recognised as a trade union and campaigned vigorously for improvements in junior doctors' pay and conditions.

BMA reports in the 1980s discussed medical responses to Aids and the threat of nuclear war. It opposed the first government attempts to introduce market forces to the NHS.



Today the BMA faces challenges such as cuts to NHS services and jobs, European Union directives on employment and training, and technological advances in diagnosis and treatment.

It speaks for doctors at all stages of their careers, campaigns for the NHS and on global issues such as the fight against obesity, and contributes to debates on issues such as assisted dying and genetic engineering.


History of the British Medical Association, Volume 3, 1982-2012

By Jacqueline Foukas and Sally Watson

“You have to know the past to understand the present.”

The third volume of History of the British Medical Association brings to life and places into context the tumultuous last 30 years in UK health policy and medical ethics.

It’s an essential text for anyone interested in medical politics and a thoroughly compelling read for all those involved during this dramatic period in the Association’s history.

“Love it or loathe it, respect or resent it – and external views of the BMA are and always have been polarised – the British Medical Association is unquestionably one of Britain’s most important institutions.” - Nicholas Timmins

Bookshop price £25
BMA member and staff discount price £20

To order a copy, email the BMA Library at [email protected]

You can also find Volumes I and II, as well as many other historical works about the BMA and the medical profession in the BMA Library's online catalogue.

Visit the BMA Library