Your BMA: rebooting the annual representative meeting

BMA representative body chair Helena McKeown and her deputy Latifa Patel explain why the association’s annual representative meeting is under review and what they hope it will begin to offer members

Location: UK
Published: Friday 12 March 2021
helena mckeown

This pandemic has changed so much, in so many areas of society. And it is no different for the BMA.

In the past the association has felt, to some, like a building in London, or a group of familiar faces, rather than an organisation truly representative of 160,000 members.

In a year where we have had to alter the way we do everything – and when the profession has worked under extraordinary pressure, faced so many obstacles and risen to such great challenges – it has become abundantly clear that we can, and should, be more representative of our members.

In our roles we have always felt we are the servants of the membership and we want to take the lessons of this past year and your experiences to make sure we are the best we can be in the future, for the benefit of doctors, patients and the NHS. And we know there are areas where we need to be better.

One of the most important of those areas is in our annual representative meeting where we make BMA policy and take forward vital issues on which to lobby Government and provide a voice of advocacy or critique in wider society.

That is why, as part of its broader governance review, the BMA has commissioned a review of our ARM to establish its efficacy, value for money and the degree to which it is able to represent the interests and secure the engagement of grassroots members.

Strands of this review have been appraisals of value for money, effectiveness as a vehicle for policy setting and prioritising, how representative the activity is in engaging and reflecting grassroots interests and assessments of other models used by other organisations and alternative ways of doing things.

In recent years we have had great successes with policy made at the ARM – policies which often begin with the courage and perseverance of individual doctors or small groups of colleagues, such as around period poverty, the relationship between the NHS and climate change or the pensions annual allowance.

But we know that sometimes the ARM can seem like the same faces, from similar walks of life, coming together year after year. And we know that there are thousands of doctors around the country who have had experiences which could help us make better policy, who may have found local solutions to national problems, or who are a powerful voice for a particular community.

Given the continuing pandemic this year’s ARM is unlikely to take place in its usual form. We will need to balance providing an opportunity for representatives to propose and debate policy with the demands of vital work and much-needed rest at such a difficult time. This is the perfect time to get to work finding out the best ways for us to serve as representatives – with a view to making next year’s ARM the best it can be and improving all areas of our work.

Some of us may have found ourselves watching online webinars while doing the dishes or making dinner – perhaps that sort of technology should play an increasing role in what we do? We know we can host meetings for upwards of 500 people and those events can be recorded so many more can join in the debate and discussion.

Perhaps we should be debating the big issues of the day in a more regular format with events to talk around important topics such as physician associates, tax-free childcare, medical apprenticeships or assisted dying.

Ultimately, however, this is not about our ideas. It needs to be about yours. We would like this process to be about what you think would work – what would enable you to become a voice in this association or help you to feel better represented?

We want the concerns or opportunities you have found in your workplace to be given a platform to become BMA policy, for you to look at your representatives and feel advocated for, or even to understand how we can support you to take on a representative role yourself.

Please get in touch and tell us how we can represent you better. We believe this is an opportunity not to be missed – an opportunity to ensure the BMA continues to strive to represent every single one of its 160,000 members and be much more than a building in London or those familiar faces. This is your BMA – a powerful voice for doctors. We want it to be the very best it can be.

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