I have now represented Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield on the General Practitioners Committee of the British Medical Association for two years. You have not heard from me regularly during this time because I know that you are busy people and I have tried to work quietly in the background rather than burden you with yet more emails or letters. However, many of you will want to know what I have done to represent you and so it is time for another update.
Unfortunately, the large majority of the work that is undertaken by the GPC members and secretariat (negotiators and their staff) is strictly confidential and by the time I am permitted to tell you anything, it has already happened. I cannot see any of you thanking me for burdening you with already freely available public knowledge and so I see my role on the GPC as a representative rather than a conduit for freely available information. In some ways, this is an apology for not contacting you all regularly, but I hope you understand that this is out of understanding and compassion for the burden of your workload rather than ignorance. If you are desperate to know what the GPC discuss every month – read your LMC newsletter or Pulse Today. They are accurate.
Around this time last year I gave you an update to provide you with insight into the working of the BMA GPC. I described to you the monthly meetings that take place in London and the link that GPC has with grassroots GPs through their LMC or the GPC-LMC-GP axis. Aside from these monthly meetings the GPC members are in regular daily contact via emails on a large variety of topics with a wide variety of opinions and differing solutions. I currently have over 6000 BMA emails in my inbox. Keeping up to date with GPC communications is quite a task in itself but is necessary to understand what is happening around us. Sometimes it is only by keeping abreast of these communications that the jigsaw can be seen in its entirety.
My predecessor, Dr Trish Edney, used to attend each of the four LMCs meetings every month. As a working GP like you all, I have so far found this an impossible task and instead attend the monthly South Yorkshire LMC Liaison Group. I was a founding member of this group some years back. It acts as a vital shared learning resource for our local LMC leaders to come together and discuss topics that affect us all. Whilst I am often unable to provide “updates” on GPC discussions to the group for fear of breaching GPC confidentiality, I do steer the conversation in the national direction of travel. You may be pleased to hear that our LMCs are discussing all the right topics, and are actually ahead of the curve in many ways compared to the national discussions. This is the mechanism by which I have chosen to link into our LMCs.
This year I have learned more about the internal politics of the BMA and how this often hinders our advancement of the profession. Unfortunately, being a cog in the BMA is a career and is in itself intensely competitive. This competition means that even within the BMA, we are not always working together, but some are trying to trip up others. This of course, is not a unique problem of the BMA and is in no way a criticism of this specific organisation (legal bit). However, it does slow the progress of change and advancement which is a common criticism of our GP leadership. I can say hand on heart that Dr Chaand Nagpaul is an impressive leader who has my trust and support. I remain impressed by his relaxed determination when I would have long since shown my frustration with the system.
In my first year on GPC, I sat as a member of the IT subcommittee. This year I have been a member of the Commissioning and Service Development subcommittee. There are a fair few subcommittees of the BMA GPC all of whom meet several times per year, but also communicate between meetings via email and sometimes conference calls. Whilst committee members feed into the subcommittees to variable degrees, I take my hat off to the Chairs of these subcommittees who really do the lion’s share of the work. When you contact the BMA with a query, if the call handler cannot answer your question easily, your question is escalated to the relevant subcommittee who formulate an answer before “the BMA” responds. So, not only does the GPC negotiate nationally on our behalf, they also handle day to day questions from the profession.
I have tried to spread my time in the GPC across subcommittees to try to get a broad understanding of the organisation rather than taking the path to chairmanship by creating a strong reputation within any one subcommittee. I stand by my election statement that I am not a political careerist but rather it is important to me that I understand how the organisation works as a whole so that I can better contribute to resolving its short comings. After all, that is why I applied to stand for this regional GPC post in the first place – to try to improve the service that the BMA GPC offers grass roots GPs.
Over the last two years, I have also taken the time to create a reputation with the medical, local and national press which I use to get across important messages which might not otherwise be heard. Some of you may have seen my appearances on the BBC news, ITV Calendar, Channle 5 news, The One Show or BBC Radio Sheffield and the BBC Radio Four Today Programme where I have represented our region and profession. Creating a reputation with the mainstream media and medical press has taken a lot of effort but I think has been very fruitful in helping to have the voices of South Yorkshire’s GPs heard. I now tend to speak to journalists on a weekly basis.
In my position of regional GPC representative I have spent the last year as a broken record reiterating the following points
General practice needs stability if we are to plan for business growth and improvement
We need to unify the profession to stand as one if we are to have strength in negotiations
We need to encourage greater participation in leadership roles from newly qualified GPs if we are to have strong GP leadership in the future
GPC needs to be prompt, proactive and clear in its communications with GPs
Whilst these are the headlines topics that I have been working on over the last two years, I am sure that you understand that each has a detailed argument of pros and cons behind it. I won’t go into any of that here, but I am happy to expand on each of these if asked. Indeed, I am always keen to hear your thoughts and feedback.
I have one further year on GPC before the position is available for election again next year. In the meantime, I intend to continue to try to improve the service that BMA GPC offers. I remain of the opinion that the BMA GPC is not currently fulfilling its potential in serving the profession.