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The LMC secretary: ‘Opportunities came up, and I seized them’

Dr Barbara West, LMC secretary for Glasgow, explains what her role involves.

How did you end up in your position?

Opportunities came up, and I seized them. In 1990, at the time of the previous ‘new contract' everyone was interested in medical politics, and I became a member of Glasgow LMC. It helped that I was a member of the Medical Women's Federation, so some local GPs already knew me and voted for me. I stood for election as LMC secretary in 1998.

For other GPs who are interested, I would say, get yourself known in the GP community and participate in activities outside your practice. Often LMC elections are unopposed, but if not, it helps to bring some other experience to the table. Once elected, contribute. Read documents, volunteer to go to meetings, provide feedback. Be proactive and question normal procedure.

What does it involve?

You must know your contract and regulations. Detail is important as you will be the source of information for all your constituents who never read these things. You must know the limits of the advice you can give, and point people in the right direction. You must form decent working relationships with the key people in your primary care organisation. This can be a challenge, but you must be up to it.

You know everything that's going on and everybody who is worth knowing, and have a priceless knowledge base. You can really help your GP constituents. But the downside is that your life is not your own; you are at the mercy of emails and phone calls 24/7. Basically you are a GP to hundreds of GPs with all their anxieties and frailties and inconsistencies, and you have to keep smiling.

What is the pay and expected hours on top of normal clinical responsibilities.

Very variable. Our LMC with a GP constituency of about 1,200 has 10 secretarial sessions per week. As I was part-time in my practice (until my recent retirement), I was able to do five sessions without interrupting clinical work. I would strongly recommend not being absolutely full-time in practice if you become an LMC secretary. You annoy your partners, and a stable partnership is vital. We are paid to cover a locum (whether or not you use one) and all potential superannuation costs. It's the influence and the interest rather than the money!

Can the position effectively lead change?

It can and it must. As LMC secretary you have a broader perspective on GP life and a huge professional network. You should be able to see the opportunities and the pitfalls for GPs. You should not just protect the status quo, although some of your constituents will think this is your only role, but cajole, persuade and inspire them to better things.