It’s vital that consultants’ voices are heard

by Andy Thornley

This year’s consultants conference will look at consultants’ value to the NHS, and set our priorities as we emerge from the pressures of the pandemic

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 16 February 2021

As I write this, all four nations of the UK are in lockdown. The pressure on the NHS and consultants from COVID-19 has been enormous, but at last we can see the in-patient numbers falling, along with the rate of new infections and the death rate. My own trust is no exception, with numbers of in patients coming down and COVID wards slowly changing back to their usual roles. The pressure on consultants has been like nothing we have experienced before.

As the NHS looks to learn from the pandemic, it is vitally important that consultants’ voices are heard. The consultants conference is the annual meeting that sets BMA policy on matters that are critical for consultants for the following year. It does this by debating and voting on motions that are submitted by consultants from across the UK through their regional consultants committees, their local negotiating committees and medical staff committees. These motions might be about issues like the availability of parking at work, the impact of the pandemic on waiting lists or how vaccine delivery has been prioritised.

Normally the consultants conference is held as a face-to-face meeting. Obviously, this year this won’t be possible. The BMA has delivered other online conferences, including the annual representative meeting, since the pandemic started, but this is an evolving process that has involved a lot of learning on the job. The conference agenda committee has been working hard to deliver an online meeting that has the ability to set policy for the next year. 

As you will be aware we have delayed our conference given the ongoing pressures with the pandemic, and are now planning to hold the conference on 19 May. It is important that consultants are able to attend virtually and that we hear the voices of colleagues from across the four nations of the UK.

In addition to debates on motions, we have also planned a panel discussion around our theme of valuing consultants – both the value that consultants add to the health service and the value the health service sees in consultants. We have currently confirmed Jane Dacre (former Royal College of Physicians president and chair of the gender pay gap review), Harry Burns (current president of the BMA and previous Scottish chief medical officer) and Prerana Issar (NHS England’s chief people officer) as panellists.

I know that many of you will be exhausted from the overflowing wards, critically ill patients and high rates of COVID infection that we are only just starting to see improve. My role as chair of the consultants conference is to make sure the BMA hears your voice and acts in the way that you want it to.

For more information on how to submit a motion, and the journey your motion takes once passed as policy at the conference, see below. If you have any questions about the motion submissions process, please get in touch by emailing [email protected].

Andy Thornley is chair of the 2021 BMA consultants conference and a cardiologist working in the north east of England

How to submit a motion to the consultants conference: Draft a motion at bma.org.uk/writingamotion; submit it to your RCC, LNC, MSC national CC or CC specialty lead; they send your motion to the conference agenda committee, which drafts the conference agenda. Your motion may be debated and passed as policy


Journey of a motion from the consultants conference: a regional consultants committee submitted a motion in 2019 on the health surcharge imposed on doctors from non-EU countries. It was debated at conference and became policy, and in May 2020 our lobbying was successful