I’ve always believed that the greatest asset – the most powerful strength – the BMA has is the collective voice of our members. Together, and united, we are a loud voice for change for our profession, the NHS and society.
Much of that strength is derived in the policy the BMA’s representative body makes. The annual representative meeting, which takes place on 13 and 14 September this year, is our largest policy-forming meeting of the year. It is when our colleagues as representatives from all parts of the UK and from across different specialties and different settings come together. We have the vital discussions and make the vital decisions on policy that affect the entire association, our members, the wider profession, our NHS, society and set our position on global issues. We achieve a lot!
This year’s ARM will not be usual. Owing to the pandemic we have to meet virtually and the debates and discussions will take place over two days online rather than in a conference centre where we meet in person over four days.
There are positives and negatives of virtual conferences. We are all familiar of the value of physical conferences. However, a virtual ARM does give us some opportunities to welcome those who have been unable to join in previous years owing to caring responsibilities, work commitments or inability to travel, among other reasons.
Your agenda committee – the team of representatives elected by last years representative body prioritise the areas of policy which will be discussed – we have been working very hard to get prepared for this year’s event. Members submitted around 400 motions and we’ve managed to mould and prioritise these to 29 which will be discussed over the two days. The debates will cover core trade union duties and issues for members, policy that impacts our patients, NHS and society and issues that impact the wider profession and colleagues across the health service.
Among the vital issues we will discuss are motions around doctors’ pay and the pay review body, concern around pensions, the very real threat of long COVID for patients and NHS staff and the urgent need to invest in the NHS and in public health.
We will also hand over the powers to the representative body to prioritise a further five motions for debate as well as an opportunity to discuss emergency motions around issues which arise between the June 25 deadline for motion submission and the ARM beginning on 13 September.
For the first time in our association’s history this ARM will also feature a virtual open debate, allowing more members of the RB a greater opportunity to participate in discussions. The topic of the debate will be physician assisted dying. This is a topic being discussed across society at the moment – including in Government – and we need to have the debates that mean we can take a position. Our membership has asked us to make time to consider this issue in depth and that is what we are doing.
This is a complex debate with many issues and viewpoints. Leading up to the ARM please do take advantage of the BMA’s resources on this topic which you can find here: we have briefing papers, results of our surveys and guidance to help inform the debate. Please do also share your views and engage with your local representatives, branch of practice representatives and chief officers.
One thing I would like to add is to please not be disheartened if you submitted a motion for debate but it hasn’t been chosen. If the topic is important to you then it is important for us too. Outside of the ARM you can submit motions to council, to your branch of practice and you can get in touch with our expert staff, with branch of practice representatives or the chief officers. The BMA has room for everyone to have their say and to have the issues that impact their working lives discussed.
I ran for this role because I believe in the great power of democracy. As I see it, my one primary job is to make sure the RB is as fully informed as possible and is equipped to discuss, debate, and vote on, the issues where the voice of the BMA needs to be heard. I will do my absolute best to ensure that is the case so that our policies are representative of our members and we can drive the change we need in our profession, our NHS and our society.
Latifa Patel is acting BMA representative body chair