Dr Mary McCarthy: Our chance to push the boundaries

The BMA’s annual conference in Belfast enables us to progress forward as a profession.

Last week, doctors from across the UK travelled to Belfast to attend the BMA’s Annual Representative Meeting (ARM).

This is a time where doctors from all walks of the profession, come together to debate on some of the key issues impacting medicine and vote on changes to policy to make improvements in the coming year.

From medical students to retired doctors, the conference had a varied range of attendees and as always, there was a plethora of topical medical issues to be debated and voted on.

Kicking off proceedings, the chair of the BMA, Dr Chaand Nagpaul gave his speech in which he warned that medicine is a profession in ‘a state of fear with doctors unable to provide patients with the care they need’. He was keen to get across that much more is needed to be done to tackle inequality across the NHS and committed to tackling all forms of discrimination.

He highlighted how BAME doctors face more barriers to progression and are more likely to be bullied, acknowledging that there is more, as an organisation, that we can be doing to tackle this.

After years of dispute with the Government over the junior doctor contract, the chair of the junior doctor committee, Dr Jeeves Wijesuriya, was delighted to announce in his speech that doctors had voted to accept changes to the contract. In a win for junior doctors, the agreed contract will see an investment of £90 million over the next four years plus a two per cent pay uplift each year for four years.

There were protests at the government’s alteration of pensions which are penalising doctors and discouraging them from doing extra work, at a time when extra work is badly needed.

It was also a time to meet old friends and make new ones. Doctors talked of their worries about Brexit, about drug shortages that are already apparent and about radioisotopes that are needed for both diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

It is essential that we are always pushing forward with our policies and are enacting the changes that doctors across the country want to see. Doctors voted for the Government to do more to address the rise in knife crime across the UK with A&E doctors witnessing a stark rise in the number of stab victims and called for tougher laws needed to protect vulnerable young people from harmful impact of social media.

What are just votes and speeches at this stage, can very often lead to tangible action.

Indeed, a motion proposed by medical student, Eleanor Wilson, only last year at the BMA conference ended with the Government announcing they would provide free sanitary provision for all patients in hospitals and this has rippled out to schools and other parts of society.

It is important that we are constantly moving forward and pushing the boundaries and this conference gives us the opportunity to do so.

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