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BMA Q and A: how can doctors push for fair medical trade?

BMA international committee chair Terry John answers your questions

What is the latest news from the BMA’s fair medical trade campaign?

The BMA has produced a short film, The Human Cost of Healthcare, to raise awareness of labour abuses uncovered in the manufacture of medical products used daily in the NHS, and to make the case for change. The association strongly believes that NHS patients should not receive care at the expense of the health of workers in other countries.

Problems have been discovered in the surgical instruments industry in Pakistan, including workers as young as seven engaged in hazardous jobs and pay that is below the living wage (less than US$1 per day for 12 hours’ work). There are also issues in surgical glove manufacturing in Malaysia, with its largely migrant workforce working more than 80 hours a week, some experiencing sexual and physical harassment.

We hope people working in the NHS will watch the film and be inspired to take action.

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How can doctors help to change the system?

The BMA has been working with the Department of Health to produce resources that address supply chain issues. The Ethical Procurement for Health: Workbook, launched by the BMA and Ethical Trading Initiative last year, is a guide to help NHS bodies improve working conditions in medical supply chains.

Later this year the BMA and DH will release e-learning modules on ethical procurement for clinicians and procurement staff.

There are a number of good examples within the NHS of organisations that are beginning to develop ethical procurement policies. It is down to individual organisations to make changes, and the movement relies on ‘ethical champions’ taking the lead on procurement in their own organisations.

Change will require commitment and input from many levels: clinicians, procurement staff and senior managers.

What can doctors do to support the campaign?

Doctors and other healthcare professionals can influence procurement more than they realise. The more people who raise these issues, the greater the pressure on suppliers to bring transparency to supply chains.

If you believe the NHS should use its vast purchasing power responsibly to improve the lives of the workers who make the products we use to treat our patients, you can campaign by:

  • Writing to the chief executive or your board about adopting an ethical procurement strategy
  • Holding a screening and discussion of the film for colleagues at your next meeting
  • Asking healthcare suppliers directly where they buy their goods.

The resources on the campaign website will help. You can also receive updates and show your support by following @fairmedtrade on Twitter or Facebook. We are keen to hear about success stories, so get in touch at [email protected].