I should start this blog by saying that I wasn’t physically at the ARM. An on-call weekend and absent colleagues meant that I had to stay in Edinburgh, dipping in and out of the meeting remotely, rather than joining my Scottish colleagues who did manage to make the trip.
But that makes its own point. The chance to take part in ARM and BMA meetings more generally remotely, when you would otherwise miss them completely is a welcome development. But I have also heard, from those who were there, that it was great to be back in the room – and mixing with old and new colleagues from across the UK.
In terms of what happened there’s a lot to get through and it would be absolutely impossible to try and cover everything. If you want to check back on anything at all have a look at the BMA website.
So here’s the headlines (albeit pretty detailed ones!)
Scottish ARM report
Unlike during pre-Pandemic ARMs there were no “real live” speeches from myself and fellow devolved nation chairs. Instead we submitted reports that were available throughout the ARM – and you can read the whole Scottish version here – or a shortened, news version here.
My report is in two parts – the first of which summarises what the different committees representing different branches of practice have been grappling with across the year. The second half is much more outward and forward looking. Its key theme, which I hope struck a chord with many of you, was about us having to constantly apologise to patients for systematic failings across our NHS; failings which are simply not our fault.
I know from personal experience how that can grind you down. That can’t continue and it’s clear the Government must act – both to make it clear to the public what they can expect from the NHS in its current state and then they have to give us the tools to make things better by creating the kind of working environment where we can stop apologising and actually get on with our jobs.
This all links closely to another key issue – that of doctors pay. There was, as always, plenty of discussion on how our pay has suffered over recent years and what to do about it. And little wonder after several years of poor pay awards and with inflation spiralling out of control. Probably the key motion that passed was around restoration of doctors pay to 2008 levels within 5 years. I hope in Scotland that you have been following our clear position on this year’s pay process. If not have a look at my blogs here and here. Essentially we have been making a robust case for an award this year of inflation plus 2% – in the context of RPI inflation standing at 11% by the last count. We asked you to help make that case by writing to your MSP with your own personal experience. So far around 300 of you have done exactly that – getting our case in front of politicians up and down the country. You can still add you voice – its easy to do by following this link.
It’s never been the case that ARM policy is automatically applied to Scotland, given the devolved nature of healthcare and now for almost all doctors their contracts too. We have always carefully reviewed what happens at ARM and whether policy generated there would work in Scotland. I have always asked one simple question first: “Would this make things better for members here?” In BMA Scotland, in between annual ARMs, committees and Scottish Council review, revise, generate and implement policy on an almost continuous basis. With that goal of “making things better for students and doctors in Scotland” always at the fore.
So coming back to pay specifically, as I said on live radio this week “After consulting with our members we will do what’s right for doctors in Scotland.” Our asks on Scottish pay awards do aim at the goal of restoring doctors pay after years of pay erosion. So in intention I don’t think there is much distance between that motion and our established position in Scotland. We do need the chance to consider the exact implications of the motion and all its details though – and for each branch of practice to formulate its own position.
And we will soon have the Scottish Government’s decision on pay. We don’t know what that might be – but we will ask for members views as soon as we have the details. I think in those circumstances, it is only right to see how the next few weeks pan out before we again settle our course. By then we’ll know where we stand and have considerable insight into the views of Scottish members. So just to be absolutely clear, we are listening to and considering how best to move forward in light of this motion. But in the short term we are going to do what any trade union must do as its core business: listen to members, stand up for their interests and respond to what they want and are prepared to do to deliver the better pay we all want to see.
You can’t really talk about pay without also talking about pensions. Again, there was plenty of discussion on this – and our own Alan Robertson, who I know you follow closely for updates on all things pension related gave a great speech looking for an overall resolution to this ridiculous issue which is still unjustly penalising doctors – but also urgently calling for employee recycling to be available in Scotland. It’s frankly ridiculous this hasn’t been acted on by the Scottish Government yet. You can read all of Alan’s speech and the relevant motion that passed here.
Safe abortion services
Right at the very end of the last day, there was an incredibly important debate on a motion around abortion. With the Roe V Wade judgement putting safe abortion care at risk for women across the United States, this was called as an emergency motion and it could not have been more timely. One of the speeches in favour was given by a doctor from the American Medical Association, which was an incredibly powerful moment. Our own Marina Politis drafted and put forward the motion which passed in all its parts and I am sure those there were incredibly proud to see a Scottish member speak so powerfully and bring such a crucial motion forward. One key aspect from a Scottish point of view is that it now puts officially on record our support for Green MSP Gillian MacKay’s Safe Access (Abortion Services) Scotland Bill which will set up buffer zones of 150 metres around abortion clinics – preventing the kind of upsetting and unsettling protests we have seen in Glasgow as one example, recently. We hope to say more on this – and work to lobby for and support the bill as it now moves forward.
As I previously said – there was a huge amount of other discussion – so am sorry if I haven’t covered the issue you were keen to hear about. However I do want to finish with a few further developments – which are linked to ARM, if not directly. First I want to congratulate Dr Phil Banfield for his election as UK Council Chair. I have no doubt Phil will do a great job and be a fierce champion for doctors across the UK. I would say that I look forward to working with Phil – but as many of you know I am stepping down from my own BMA role as Chair of Scottish Council, so I will very much leave that to my successor.
Finally there has been some discussion online of the potential need for a Scottish policy setting conference. I know many doctors signed an open letter on this that we have received and are giving full and careful consideration. The aim of this idea – to give Scottish members a louder and clearer voice as part of the BMA is again an aim we all share – so it is right that we give this the full consideration and discussion of all the implications its deserves. Again, the fact I am stepping down, and we will have a new chair and session of Scottish Council starting in late summer means that our plan is to take this discussion to the very next council meeting at the end of August and allow a full and open discussion at that point. The outcome of that discussion will again be for my successor, and I am sure whoever that is will update members on the outcome and our plans to move forward in a way that brings members with us and allows them to be more fully involved in their union.
With that, and with my last ARM done you may be hoping that you have heard the last of me. With the pay award coming up however, I suspect that won’t be the case – so I’ll save my farewell message for another time!
Dr Lewis Morrison is Chair of BMA Scotland