Editor Jaimie Kaffash argues that a motion put forward by the BMA GP Committee expressing no confidence in its elected chair Dr Farah Jameel is disingenuous
I don’t generally like writing about the personalities and navel gazing within the BMA GP Committee. I don’t feel like grassroots GPs and our readers really care what is happening within the GPC – they just want the best representation they can get. But I do feel like the vote of no confidence this morning was a massive shot in the foot.
I am going to make no comment on Dr Farah Jameel’s chairmanship of the committee, her performance or her abilities. And I have no horse in this race.
But to provide some context, Dr Jameel was elected as the first ever female chair of English GPs in November 2021. Three months later, she took sick leave, in part due to sexist comments she faced within the committee. When she came back, she was suspended in November 2022 following a complaint that had been made prior to her sick leave. And then, as the complaints process was under way, she went on maternity leave in December 2022, and she has been on maternity leave ever since. Of course, this was amid a series of reports around a toxic, sexist culture that existed within the GPC.
The motion expressing no confidence today acknowledged Dr Jameel’s situation, and expressed sympathy. It said that ‘the proper, effective, democratic representation of the profession is of paramount importance to this committee’. It put the blame on the ‘lack of clarity surrounding the status of the alleged suspension of the Chair of GPCE ahead of significant impending contractual and political upheaval from now through 2024’.
I have no doubt that the proposers and seconders of this motion have the best interests of the profession at heart. I also have no doubt that they are not sexist, misogynistic or racist.
But I strongly believe this motion is disingenuous. They are citing the suspension – and implicitly blaming the BMA management – as the reason for this motion. The suspension is irrelevant here. The suspension process would take a couple of months at most – the complaint is not criminal matter or anything close, but the process still needs to be adhered to. There is recent precedent to show a short-term suspension for BMA officers doesn’t impact their roles
This suspension is not the reason Dr Jameel is not currently fulfilling her duties. She is not fulfilling her duties because she is on maternity leave, and this would be true regardless of a suspension or not. Equally, if Dr Jameel wasn’t on maternity leave, she wouldn’t be facing a motion of no confidence.
Having a chair of the negotiating team on maternity leave during what could be the biggest negotiations in 20 years (although maybe not) is inconvenient. But maternity leave is inconvenient for any organisation or business. You need to hire short-term cover. You haven’t got flexibility to change the structure of a team. You need to train someone new. But businesses need to just lump it, and rightly so because maternity rights have been hard fought for and won by unions.
Of course, this isn’t just a business we are talking about. It is the lives of GPs, their staff and patients. And it could be quite easily argued that getting these negotiations right is of the utmost importance. This is an argument I have a lot of sympathy for. If GPC feel that the team negotiating for them – which was picked by Dr Jameel – was not the best one to get the best possible deal, that is absolutely their prerogative. And they should be allowed to express no confidence in the negotiating team if they so like, regardless of the individuals’ personal circumstances.
But this is not what the motion has done. It has cited the lack of clarity around Dr Jameel’s situation. It has blamed the suspension. As I said, this is disingenuous. If they had expressed no confidence in the whole team, and called for a completely new approach, that’s fair enough (and I am making no judgement on the team itself). But they chose not to.
If I were Steve Barclay, I’d be rubbing my hands at this. I’d be painting the BMA as the trade union that ignores the principle behind employment rights when it is inconvenient to them. And I’d be reminding people that an organisation (GPC England) that had been described as having a toxic culture in an official report removed its first female chair in England in 100 years while she was on maternity leave.
It might end up being a positive for GPs if a new team comes in and is able to get a great deal for the profession. But I sincerely hope that the committee isn’t so stupid as to feel like electing another male chair is the best way forward. Because right now, they seem to be compounding their own PR nightmare.