ARM: How more people can get involved than ever before

by Helena McKeown

A feature of this year's virtual meeting will be a focus on inequality

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 1 September 2020

This year’s annual representative meeting will be unlike no other. COVID-19 has had a significant and devastating effect on our members, the NHS and wider society.

The long-term consequences of this may still be unknown, which is why it is more important than ever for doctors to be given a voice on the issues they face and for the BMA to act.

As this year’s ARM agenda makes clear – COVID has been at the forefront of our members’ minds. Members have also chosen to submit motions, while working under the extreme conditions of this pandemic, including addressing the inequalities in the NHS and society.

The other significant consequence of COVID-19 has been the changes we have had to make to the ARM itself. Unlike in previous years we have had to cancel a physical meeting and reduce the number of days across which the debates are held. So for the first time in the history of the BMA we will be meeting virtually on Tuesday, 15 September.

However, this change in circumstances has allowed us the opportunity to try something new and to make the ARM more than just motions and policy debates. While this is of course the primary, and most important, function of the ARM, I wanted to try and open this year’s ARM to discuss one of the other most pressing issues affecting doctors – inequality.

On 10 September from 6pm to 7.30pm the BMA will be launching its new Network of Elected Women. This BMA-wide group will allow elected women members to provide peer support and guidance to one another, to share educational activities which support women to apply for disciplines and roles in which they might feel less qualified, and to develop strategies for building strong female leadership at the BMA.

Then during the ARM, a session available to all members entitled Learning lessons from Covid-19: embedding equalities and inclusion in healthcare delivery and work practices will hear from an expert panel on the challenges faced by different groups throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. With presentations from Olumide Dada, Helen Grote, Professor Farah Bhatti and Michael Brady, the session will explore how we can create more equitable and inclusive ways of working in the future.

On 17 September the BMA will hold a virtual active allyship event between 6pm and 7.30pm.  With a keynote speech from comedian Deborah Frances-White, host of The Guilty Feminist podcast, the session will explore the role that men can play in achieving gender equality in the medical profession. This is an event open only to elected members and more information will be sent out in due course.

Of course, tackling inequality is not the only topic outside of the ARM that members can engage with. Like in previous years the BMA board of science is making available to all members it’s Victor Horsley scientific sessions with expert speakers discussing topics such as controlling epidemics, gambling disorder and the Gut Microbiome. Details can be found on the BMA website.

Finally, I wanted to share some personal recommendations of films or books that could be read in preparation for this year’s ARM, which cover off some of the issues we will be debating:

  • Is this Sexual Harassment is a fascinating study of workplace sexual harassment and its impact
  • A BBC Disclosure documentary, Secrets of Scotland’s Superhospital, examines claims that design flaws at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital helped spread infection
  • The non-fiction book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks looks at ethical issues of race and class in medical research
  • Under the Knife is a documentary that examines the impact of privatisation on the NHS
  • And for a celebration of the history of the NHS I would recommend The Greatest Wealth, a series of monologues performed by some of the UK’s most well-known actors at the Old Vic Theatre.

Helena McKeown is BMA representative body chair.