The British Medical Association likes to represent all sides of the debate and to lobby government as the “doctors’ union”. In 2009, its published accounts showed that it was flogging a new service to attract members and swell its coffers. This service was the “BMA Employers Advisory Service”, an advisory services to doctor managers.
Even for a union that likes to triangulate, and play every side, this was an exceptional departure. Medical Harm asked the BMA if, following the death of Baby P, this meant the BMA was advising Dr Jane Collins, the CEO of Great Ormond Street, and the several other BMA doctors who had concerns about management and had raised them. In other words, playing every side of the triangle, and supporting a payment with a gagging clause to the doctor with concerns. Following our Private Eye special investigation, we had established that the BMA was the largest supporter of pay offs with silencing clauses. The BMA refused to say “owing to confidentiality”.
Medical Harm then asked the BMA how it managed the conflicts of interests. The BMA press officer obliged by saying there were “clear protocols/guidelines”. When Medical Harm asked to see them, the BMA were unable to provide them.
The sum total of this is that the BMA claim to operate a “Chinese Wall” system, but no doctor can be sure that the BMA are not sharing confidential information, and supporting a back room deal.
In order to be fair to the BMA, Medical Harm asked for three examples when the BMA had helped a whistleblower stand up for patient safety. The BMA were unable to provide any examples.
Professor David Hands, a former CEO and Chairman of NHS trusts with knowledge of working with the BMA said, “Professional bodies frequently collude with mangers to define the problem as an employment issue because the sacrifice of one employee (who will shortly no longer be paying subscriptions) is better then losing a cosy relationship with an employer. The BMA is particularly bad at simplifying complex problems of clinical & managerial accountability into an isolated example of personal incompatibility and going for money to buy off the hassle.”