BMA Junior Doctors Committee Meeting December 2016
I hope everyone has had a lovely Christmas. The Christmas break has finally given me a chance to report on the BMA JDC meeting I attended at the beginning of the month. Since the last meeting I attended a few things have happened;
Dr Ellen McCourt resigned and Dr Pete Campbell stepped up as temporary chair
The new junior doctors contract was imposed on O+G trainees
The BMA gave up their mandate for industrial action in exchange for high level talks with the government
The BMA remains in opposition to the new contract
Following these events it will come as no surprise that the agenda was given over almost entirely to discussions around the new contract. However, the first order of business, after the housekeeping (another 45 minutes spent agreeing on the minutes from the previous meeting), was to elect a new chair of the JDC committee.
This was not a straightforward election. The main reason for this was the lack of candidates vying for the position. As of the start of the meeting not a single candidate had put themselves forward for the role. The debate that followed was certainly eye opening. The reasons raised for the lack of candidates seems to be multifactorial.
It would be fair to say that over the last 18 months the work load of the JDC chair has increased massively. For those that are unaware, the JDC chair is seconded from clinical work by the BMA, on a part time basis, up to an agreed percentage of their time. Both of the previous JDC chairs (Dr Johann Malwana and Dr Ellen McCourt) and the temporary chair agreed that the JDC chair role is a full time job at the moment. From the comments that were directed at the BMA treasurer (Dr Andrew Dearden who was sitting in on the meeting) this is not necessarily agreed with by the BMA powers that be.
The other main issue bought up by the committee members was the degree of scrutiny, both fair and distinctly unfair, that they must endure. The chair role now comes with an expectation that you will be able to deal with the media, political spin machines and the hugely diverse group of junior doctors represented by the BMA. I do not think this is an unfair expectation. However, I think we can all agree that they should not be expected to deal with the rank abuse that is hurled at them by certain groups. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the abuse comes from within the medical community; whatever you may think of the BMA there is no need for this behaviour towards one another.
Further debate ensued before it was agreed that Dr Pete Campbell and Dr Jeeves Wijesuryia would stand in as interim JDC chairs until an emergency meeting in February. A number of committee members intimated that they would use the intervening time to ensure their deanery would allow them to run for the position and support their secondment.
Following lunch we moved on to the topic of the junior doctor contract. Dr Pete Campbell updated us on how negotiations were going with the government and, under his advice, it was agreed that the talks were not proceeding as the committee would like. Dr Pete Campbell did say that he was hopeful further progress could be made and so the negotiations are continuing. He commented that the civil servants seemed amenable to finding a deal on the pay floor and LTFT training aspects of the new contract but that there were political blockades to this at present.
Some committee members felt that the previous JDC chair (Dr Ellen McCourt) had given up our mandate for industrial action with nothing in return. Myself, and a number of others disagreed with this. I disagreed because I feel that after 42% of junior doctors voted to accept the new contract we cannot assume that they still want to strike. This was borne out by anecdotal evidence bought up in the medical specialties working group meeting where the overall feeling was of little appetite for further industrial action.
The topic finally moved on to what was going to happen next. The debate was quite clearly divided between those in favour of continued negotiations and those favouring re-balloting for industrial action and withdrawal from negotiations. As I have already mentioned, the general feeling in the room was that there is not currently support for industrial action and calling a ballot could further undermine what negotiating power the committee has. The flip side of this is the growing unrest in some corners of the junior doctor community and the dwindling BMA membership. I found that this point was put across strongly by a small minority of the committee and this was borne out by the eventual vote.
So what happens next;
Further JDC meeting in February when a permanent JDC chair can be elected
Continued negotiation with the government to improve the new contract
Continued opposition to the contract
Assisting junior doctors at a local level to work out pay floor discrepancies with their trusts
Further engagement with membership to gauge support for further industrial action if the committee feels it is warranted
Rota allowing I will be at the meeting in February but in the meantime I would encourage you to read the statement published by the JDC following the meeting here