Six highlights you might have missed at ARM 2017

The recent BMA annual representatives meeting brought together 500 doctors to debate key issues facing their profession.

Hundreds took the opportunity to discuss and define BMA policy on the issues that matter to them and their patients, from wheelchair availability to the use of out-of-area mental health beds.

Some hit the headlines. But with a packed agenda, there were many more examples of powerful and inspiring speeches and sessions that didn’t. Here are six of the most memorable.

Speaking out on bullying

Bullying, harassment and stress have repeatedly affected Scotland SAS doctors committee chair Bethany Threlfall’s long career in medicine.

‘Bullying, harassment and discrimination are not problems unique to the NHS. But it seems to me particularly shameful that an organisation dedicated to caring for people, and which claims to value its staff, has such a culture.’

Dr Bethany Threlfall, ARM 2017

In an emotive speech, she called on delegates to support motion 88. This asked the BMA to make Respect at Work, a BMA Scotland support service for doctors who’ve experienced bullying, available across the UK.

Extract from Dr Bethany Threlfall's speech on bullying in the NHS (motion 88)

Dr Threlfall’s speech opened up a wider discussion on bullying in the medical profession, including important research from BMA Wales, presented by BMA Welsh council member Rajnesh Nirula.

Mr Rajnesh Nirula speaks about bullying of SAS doctors in Wales (motion 88)

As a result of these speeches, motion 88 was passed unanimously. It’s a move that could help hundreds of doctors.

No exceptions for exception reporting

Colonel Glynn Evans is chair of the BMA armed forces committee. He’s also a guardian of safe working for 500 junior doctors, and has seen first-hand how new exception reporting systems can improve working lives.

‘Exception reporting works, for the benefit of our trainees. We should be using our time to do it.’

Colonel Glynn Evans, ARM 2017

In support of motion 124, he told delegates that while exception reporting is vital, guardians like him must get the time they need to successfully fulfil their roles.

Colonel Glynn Evans on exception reporting (motion 124)

Drawing on his own experiences as a guardian allowed Colonel Evans to advocate for the needs of consultants, while acknowledging the huge importance of exception reporting for junior doctors.

His speech was one of many examples at the ARM of different branches of practice coming together to discuss work that affects them all - and strengthening the profession as a result.

Inspiring future doctors

Doctors weren’t the only guests at this year’s ARM. Eighty aspiring young medics from local schools also visited, meeting with doctors and medical students to find out what a medical career is really like.

Will being let loose with stethoscopes, blood pressure monitors and a giant game of ‘Operation’ inspire these young people to become the doctors of tomorrow?

Only time will tell – but what’s certain is that the doctors who gave up their lunchtime to volunteer helped make the session one of the most inspiring and innovative at this year’s conference.

‘The event was first rate.’

Nick O'Connor, deputy headteacher at Highcliffe School

‘It was really helpful and I enjoyed it a lot.’

Bita, Year 10 student

Protecting patient data

‘Terrified of being deported, they simply walked out. They didn’t sign a self-discharge, they didn’t tell any of the doctors or nurses, they just left. To this day we don’t know if they actually received any treatment.’

Dr Simarpreet Marwaha, ARM 2017

Immigration and access to healthcare can be contentious topics. But how do these issues affect doctors and their patients on the ground?

Junior doctor Simarpreet Marwaha threw the question into sharp focus in her strong support for motion 71. This called on the BMA to deplore the sharing of confidential patient data with immigration officials, for fear it would dissuade vulnerable patients from seeking care.

Speaking for motion 71, Dr Simarpreet Marwaha shares a patient’s story

In politics, the voices of excluded and isolated people are often left unheard. At the ARM, however, Dr Marwaha was able to ensure patients’ needs were at the heart of the debate - and of future BMA policy.

No place for mental health stigma

Motion 65 called on delegates to urgently address the stigma surrounding mental health in the medical profession.

One of the most persuasive speakers for the motion was medical students committee member Eleanor Price. Speaking about her own struggles with mental health problems, she told delegates how prejudice has already affected her career.

Medical student Eleanor Price on mental health stigma (motion 65)

‘If we as a profession cannot look after our own, how can we expect to provide parity of esteem to our patients?’

Eleanor Price, ARM 2017

In just two minutes, her speech brought the experiences of mental health patients, including medical students and doctors themselves, to the fore - and won unanimous support for the motion.

That’s an outcome that can only come from being courageous enough to share your own lived experience with your colleagues. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen at the ARM.

How to tackle a crisis

On the last day of the conference, two opposing but equally powerful speeches highlighted the funding crisis in general practice.

Speaking for motion 362, BMA council deputy chair David Wrigley called on delegates to oppose charges for patients to see their GP or for missed appointments.

Dr David Wrigley asks delegates to reject GP charges for patients (motion 362)

Speaking against it, Dr Rachel McMahon stressed the huge funding challenges that face practices and asked delegates to allow charges to at least be considered, even if other solutions might be preferable.

Dr Rachel McMahon asks delegates not to reject GP charges (also motion 362)

The motion was eventually passed, and although they disagreed, this is what the ARM is all about - whatever their views, it’s a platform for doctors to speak up on the issues that matter.

Add your voice

What issues make you want to stand up and make people listen? How do you think the BMA could better help doctors and their patients?

The ARM is your opportunity to influence BMA policy. Find out more about joining your relevant BMA committee and participating in next year’s event.

‘The ARM is where the BMA debates and decides on policy, as well as considering key areas of interest and concern to the profession. Having varied and new voices there is vital to ensure doctors’ voices are heard.’

Dr Anthea Mowat, BMA representative body chair

For guidance on any of the issues raised at this year’s ARM, see the BMA’s advice pages, speak to our team of employment advisers, or contact our counselling and doctors’ well-being services.


Editor - Lisa Hansson
Multimedia producer - Mary-Laine Friday
Senior digital content producer - Eleanor Dean
Senior multimedia producer - Matt Saywell
Social media manager - Jon Hinchmore
Photography - Emma Brown, Sarah Turton

With thanks to - Dr Bethany Threlfall, Mr Rajnesh Nirula, Colonel Glynn Evans, Dr Pali Hungin, Highcliffe School, Dr Simarpreet Marwaha, Eleanor Price, Dr David Wrigley, Dr Rachel McMahon and Dr Anthea Mowat.