Changing our culture at the BMA

by Helena McKeown

We haven’t shied away from the changes that are needed, and a year on from Daphne Romney QC’s review into sexism within the BMA, progress continues to be made.

Location: UK
Published: Friday 16 October 2020
helena mckeown

It has been a year since an independent review into the culture at the BMA revealed many uncomfortable truths. Yet we have not shied away from the changes that are needed to fix the issues highlighted by Daphne Romney QC’s report into sexism within the BMA.

From day one the BMA was clear that there was appetite for change across the association, with a commitment to creating a positive and fair culture. After the report’s publication the BMA established a Culture and Inclusion Oversight Group made up of elected members and staff to oversee the implementation of the recommendations, and further actions such as the introduction of the BMA’s first speak up guardian.

In the year since, a lot of this work has been completed. You can read the full details, including the latest report from the Culture and Inclusion Oversight Group, but big changes have already been accomplished including the appointment of Mary Walsh as the BMA’s speak up guardian.

In recent weeks, we have established a new network of elected women representatives who will champion and strengthen female leadership and advance diversity for the benefit of our association, and we are in the process of setting up a national BAME forum to strengthen our commitment to diversity and inclusion. In Scotland, all Scottish council members and staff will be asked to sign up to a new pledge to ‘uphold the values of the BMA and commit to behaving professionally, with kindness and with respect at all times’, which will be introduced at the first meeting of the session in early November.

This is in addition to the immediate steps we took last year, including:

  • the setting up of an independent 24-hour support phone line
  • the establishment of a new independent complaint investigation process
  • the rolling out of ‘active bystander’ and ‘valuing difference’ training for BMA staff and elected members
  • the establishment of a committee mentoring programme to help support new committee members.

Despite these measures our work is not done. There are still areas where we can enact further change, and the BMA will continue to support projects and actions that:

  • promote equal rights and opportunities, tackle discrimination or disadvantage, and create an open and inclusive culture for our members, employees and stakeholders
  • support committees to be effective, efficient and representative of the diversity of our membership. One positive example of this is the increase in the number of women sitting on the BMA’s pensions committee
  • enable the association’s democratic structures to reflect the voice and demands of our members at a local, intermediate, national and UK level in line with our strategic priorities.

As well as changing our own culture, the BMA continues to play a vital role in finding solutions to the equality and diversity issues running through the NHS. Far too many doctors experience prejudice and discrimination in the workplace, or face unequal access to opportunities for advancement.

As well as providing members with training and resources, we are working to tackle this through our policy work including working with medical schools to tackle racial harassment, calling for better support for disabled doctors and medical students, and our recent survey to understand the workplace experiences of doctors working through the menopause. In September, as part of our virtual ARM, we launched our active allyship work with a keynote speech from comedian Deborah Frances-White. The session highlighted the importance for all of us to act as allies for every protected characteristic, and explored the vital role that men can play in achieving gender equality in the medical profession.

Since March, the NHS has faced one of its greatest challenges – the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on doctors and medical staff, on patients, and on the health system. Unfortunately COVID-19 has also highlighted, once again, the worrying disparities that some doctors face, including some of the most simple things such as the fact that when PPE face masks (vital for the protection of doctors) were first distributed, they did not fit female doctors properly – leaving them vulnerable to infection – or the lack of transparent masks to help with lip reading, or PPE suitable for those with beards for religious reasons.

If the past year has told us anything it is that we can, and need to, do more to create a fair and equal culture – both within the BMA and the NHS – but progress is, and will continue to be, made on behalf of our members and our staff.

Helena McKeown is BMA representative body chair