Your BMA: respect

by Latifa Patel

We should always remember to be respectful when exchanging views

Location: UK
Published: Tuesday 19 March 2024
Latifa Patel

I’ve always been keen for this column to be as responsive and engaging as possible. In recent weeks I’ve seen discussions on social media – and had direct messages about – a couple of themes, which I thought merited response and discussion. 

For those who like to get straight to the punchline, I can more or less sum up what I want to say with four words: Get involved. Be respectful.

These two things I want to discuss are recent comments from doctors who say they don’t understand how the BMA and the structures of our association work and a number of less-than-respectful engagements and interactions between members and representatives across various platforms.

These issues clearly have a relationship, too, because we desperately want members to get involved – as many of you as possible – in the many areas of the BMA, but I must also encourage everyone who does so to be respectful through the process of standing for democratic elections and becoming a representative.

The BMA does try to explain its functions and structure – we send members a great deal of messages and content through emails, texts, social media including Facebook, X, Instagram and through other mediums such as this magazine.

But, in the busy world most of us work in it isn’t always easy to engage and I do understand that. However, I would really like to encourage you to make this a two-way street and engage with what we send and learn about your union so it remains representative of you.

The BMA has networks all the way from national platforms to hyper-local ones. Nationally, there is the board of directors which provides oversight of the business side of the BMA – that particularly encompasses things such as finance and risk.

Then we have our council, which is elected democratically and is accountable to members and tries to ensure that policy is followed at all times. And each branch of practice – the professional area you work in – has its own national committee whether that is for general practice, public health doctors or SAS doctors, for example.

More locally, we have regional committees for each area of professional practice. So, for example, in my patch there is a North West regional SAS committee which feeds into the national committee. All branches of practice have those.

There are also regional councils and divisions which aren’t for doctors from specific branches of practice but represent members from all backgrounds locally. So, returning to my patch, we have a North West regional council and several divisions, such as Manchester and Salford, for example. Beyond those structures there are also local negotiating committees in hospitals.

We also have the representative body and the annual representative meeting. The RB are the representatives who attend ARM and make policy on behalf of members. This group of people is formed mainly from divisions and branch-of-practice conferences.

Recently, changes have been made to divisional elections to bring them in line with the rest of the association by utilising electronic nomination forms and voting systems.

Previously, only people at particular divisional meetings could vote for candidates and clearly not everyone is able to be at every meeting. Now, all people represented in a division will be able to vote. 

As your RB chair, I remain neutral and have no authority in this change. This change was voted by BMA council as advised by the organisation committee. I do have an interest though.

The BMA is under representing women, ethnic-minority colleagues, disabled colleagues and LGBTQ+ colleagues. I am interested to see if these steps will increase the diversity of representation and, using the demographic data we can collect, we will monitor the effect these changes make.

There have been a number of derogatory comments on social media about members and representatives, recently. Criticisms of the BMA include suggestions that we are undemocratic or not representative and accusations that the association hasn’t followed the paths or taken the decisions some commentators would like.

Some of these discussions haven’t been held in the most respectful of manners and I would like to remind all members that this isn’t OK. More than that, I would like to remind everyone the BMA is its members. It can only be guided and led by those members and the people who stand to be representatives.

The people who have guided this association have done so as elected representatives and have driven policy voted by representatives of members. I was elected into my first role as deputy chair of RB in 2019. I stood on a mandate to make certain changes and I have helped to achieve many of those. That’s how you influence the change you want to see. 

Our colleagues who have been in elected roles in the BMA have similarly done their best to represent the membership. They will have dedicated time and effort into their roles and many will have influenced our policy driven actions over the years.

If you want to see change, if you want to be heard, stand for election. It is unfair for those who haven’t tried to make a difference to criticise those who have. It is unfair for the starting position to be an assumption that previous members have done anything less than their best and in the best interest of our members. 

I’d also like to remind members – and it’s unfortunate that I have to say this – there is no place in our BMA for any form of discrimination. 

If you would like to get in touch to share your ideas or views please write to me at [email protected]


Dr Latifa Patel is chair of the BMA representative body


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