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At the heart of general practice since 1960

BMA plans major voting shake-up

By Steve Nowottny

The BMA is to propose a radical shake-up of its voting procedures to allow rank and file members to elect its next chair.

Representatives passed a last-minute motion at the annual representative meeting in Torquay last week, calling for increased 'democratic input and accountability'.

Formal proposals to widen the electorate beyond the 34 voting members of the BMA council are to be developed through consultation, with the plans to be voted on at next year's meeting. The decision follows widespread criticism of the BMA's closed election procedure, which critics argue is anachronistic and disconnected from grassroots doctors.

But more radical changes – which could have seen newly elected chair Dr Hamish Meldrum serve only a year, instead of three, before facing an election under a new constitution – were dropped after last-minute negotiations with the agenda committee.

Dr Kailash Chand, a GP in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, and the BMA council member who proposed the motion, told Pulse he had accepted amendments in order to ensure the motion was passed. He said the question now was not if but how the election procedure would be changed. 'I've been assured these changes will definitely be implemented,' he said. 'The basic principle has been accepted. That tells you the BMA, with all the recent debacles, is intending to listen to the membership.'

Speaking for the motion, Dr Jaswinder Bamrah of the BMA's consultants committee quoted a recent Pulse survey which found 70% of GP BMA members believed all members should be able to vote. 'The chair of the council is the face of the BMA,' he said. 'The person who is elected has to command the confidence of the profession.'

Dr Ian Banks, a member of the BMA council, said a change was needed to make to make the organisation as a whole more representative. 'In 175 years, there's never been a woman, there's never been a non-white chairman,' he said. 'Despite all we pontificate about equality, we need to put our own house in order.'

However, a proposal calling for the chair to be elected from among only the elected members of the BMA council was passed only as a reference, after an appeal by Dr Tony Calland, an unsuccessful candidate for the chair this year, and himself an unelected member of the council. By reducing the pool of candidates this measure would 'effectively reduce the potential for democracy in the council', he said.

Dr Ian Wilson, chair of the BMA's organisation committee, backed the motion, which he predicted would be 'a seismic shift in the culture of the organisation, which is long overdue'.

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