It was my absolute pleasure to chair this year’s BMA annual representative meeting, which took place in Liverpool last week – with my primary responsibility being to ensure your representatives were as best informed as possible on all the issues being debated and to ensure their voice was amplified and heard.
The ARM is the most significant policy-making event in the association’s calendar – and was, arguably, more important than ever as our profession and our NHS face up to times of unprecedented change and challenge.
At this year’s event many of the biggest issues of the day were discussed and confronted and, together, we formed policy that will guide doctors’ representatives and influence government decisions and societal progress.
From the workforce crisis to a demand for change from our regulator and from artificial intelligence to e-cigarettes we united to ensure we can influence debate and discourse as the incredibly powerful voice of doctors that we are.
When I stood as deputy chair of the representative body in 2019 I was elected on a manifesto of challenge, change and communication. This year’s ARM was, I hope, a demonstration of how we are addressing and achieving exactly those three things. This was our most inclusive ARM to date – with a hybrid system and fundamental changes to the in-person conference ensuring accessibility and inclusion were the foremost values at the heart of everything we did.
The 2023 ARM was the first to include 83 new seats made available to doctors via the BMA divisions focused particularly on new attendees. And, during the meeting, we made every effort to communicate as clearly as possible – including in some moments moving away from traditional processes to ensure the representative body was as well informed as possible. One example of this was in a debate about the BMA’s resolutions process in which I empowered the representative body to vote on whether they wanted to hear the views and insight of Emma Runswick, our chief officer lead for the process.
Unfortunately, I did have to remind the body and our wider membership of our behaviour principles. I remind you again – debate is healthy, debate is welcome. But we do not single out and target those who share their opposing views at ARM. Do that and you will destroy the very democracy ARM is built on.
For me, the overwhelming message we should take away from this meeting is that, despite the huge challenge and change we all face, there is also so much for us to be optimistic about. Our profession, united, can be an unparalleled advocate for ourselves, for patients and for the NHS. We showed that over three days in Liverpool and we have shown that during the industrial action of recent months. I hope we can continue to thrive, unified, through the challenge and change ahead.
Our closing thoughts were with Anthea Mowat and her family. Anthea, who chaired the representative body from 2016 to 2019, was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year and was too unwell to join us. We thank her for the great changes she imprinted on the BMA and all that she stands for.
Dr Latifa Patel is chair of the BMA representative body
Since this piece was written, Dr Mowat has very sadly died. Read a tribute to Dr Mowat from BMA council chair Phil Banfield, and a fuller tribute will be published in the near future.