With 2024 now upon us, I would like to wish all of you a happy new year, and sincerely hope you were able to enjoy some rest with friends and family during the holiday period.
The start of a new year can seem daunting, and looking ahead I know we will face numerous challenges as a union and as a profession, the navigation of which will require effective leadership.
As your BMA representative body chair I know that leadership – and an ability to listen – go hand in hand and it cannot be understated how important your feedback is to how I, and my fellow chief officers, fulfil our roles and responsibilities.
I have always made clear my door remains open to all members who want to contact me on any issue, and it goes without saying that, in welcoming feedback, I accept this will sometimes include criticism.
My previous column, for example, which focused on the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and sought to outline the BMA’s policy-based positions on this tragedy, evoked strong and sometimes personal responses from some of you.
Similarly, I know there are those who have disagreed or taken issue with the association’s approach to industrial action or to call for a moratorium on physician and anaesthesia associates in the NHS, and subsequently made these feelings clear to me.
In my capacity as your representative body chair, my own personal views are not there to be platformed.
My obligation and commitment have always been to represent the positions and policies of the BMA accurately and to further the accessibility and inclusivity of our association to the benefit of all our members.
Our policy book can be viewed online and I would encourage all our members to have a look at what policies your fellow members have passed for BMA action.
My role is to allow members such as yourself to make democratic change through proposing and developing informed policy, a process that essentially shapes the association and points it towards the direction you want us to go.
If there is something you disagree with and wish to change, put yourself forward to attend our next annual representative meeting in June, via election from your BMA division, your regional council or our conferences.
All BMA members are now eligible to nominate and vote in the elections in their division area, and I urge anybody who wants to participate and to make a difference to visit bma.org.uk/my-bma for more information.
Alongside applying for a seat, I would also encourage you to submit motions for debate at this year’s ARM through your divisions and regional councils.
If there is something of particular relevance to you, that you believe merits consideration and debate, putting this issue forward as a motion is an excellent way of raising your voice and potentially influencing association policy.
Guidance for drafting motions can be found on the BMA website, with the deadline for submissions to this year’s ARM 9am on 2 April.
Attending conference and contributing to debate should serve as important reminders that it is you who decides what our priorities should be, you who decides what we debate and you who ultimately decides what your BMA does for you.
Different opinions within the BMA and among our 195,000 membership should never be viewed as signs of division and weakness, but as diversity and strength.
Having a plurality of thought and, crucially, a safe and mutually respectful environment in which these can be further explored, is precisely why we have been able to come so far as a trade union and professional association.
One need only look at the make-up of our executive team, which includes two junior doctors and two women, our first chief officer to be an open and proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, our first chief officer to be a woman from a minority background and to serve while pregnant and a new parent and a chief officer with a long-term health condition.
We want to recognise how important our diversity is and I hope our membership appreciates that, with diversity in leadership, comes diversity of thought and the way our members are represented.
It is incredibly important to us we are given feedback, whether it’s constructive criticism or positive and all of us are open to getting that feedback from our members.
But again – your greatest asset in this association is your voice so do consider putting yourself forward.
Dr Latifa Patel is chair of the BMA representative body