UnionDues: Doctors’ union finds strength in its members’ patients

Tom Grinyer, chief executive of the BMA, is the special guest in the latest UnionDues podcast

A photo of a trade union protest with the words "The UnionDues Column" overlaid

Simon Sapper is a trade unionist and host of the UnionDues podcast.

It’s fair to say that the doctors’ union is attracting more than its fair share of attention these days,  with members incensed by insensitive (and inaccurate) comments from Government about GP work-rates,  quickly followed by an admission that promised extra recruits into the profession were not going to materialise.  The union’s GP committee is conducting a consultative ballot that could lead to industrial action.

It was against this backdrop that I sat down with British Medical Association (BMA) chief executive Tom Grinyer who is our  special guest in the latest UnionDues podcast.  Tom’s route has taken him from PCS, via a couple of Royal Colleges (Physicians and Anaesthetists) to the 150,000 strong BMA.

We discuss the union’s distinctive characteristics starting with what the strapline – “Looking After Doctors So They Can Look After You” – actually means in practice.  It turns out to be the product of a high level of engagement between union members,  reps and employees and service users (namely patients). 

Now the BMA is not the first union to embrace and find common cause with  the users of  the service their members provide.  TSSA engages consistently with rail passengers in campaigns, and education union members will sit alongside parents on school governing bodies.  But the way in which the BMA embeds patient involvement in strategic planning is not something I have seen elsewhere (and do feel free to put me right if you think you have a better example).

Not surprisingly we review the union’s performance over the pandemic.  This saw thrice-weekly calls with all key stakeholders and the rapid establishment of a 24/7 member helpdesk.  Tom explains why these two initiatives particular have been so important.

We also look at other particular issues –  for example, just what is the difference between the BMA and the Royal College of General Practitioners*?  How come the widely read/respected British Medical Journal is at the same time owned by the BMA but not its mouthpiece?  And why is the union so firmly outside of the TUC.

Finally, we chat about Tom’s own membership of the GMB, and the advantages and challenges of having the Chief Exec in the same union as, for example, the HQ receptionists.

Also, in this episode,  in #Thought4TheWeek, Professor Mel Sims gives her take on COP26 and the challenge for unions,  with particular credit to STUC General Secretary Roz Foyer (whose contribution to the conference is here) plus LFF’s very own Basit Mahmood previews the #RadicalRoundUp. 

UnionDues drops at 12 noon on 15 November.  Access all episodes here

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