Senior GPs have accused the BMA of lacking insight after it called on women who have experienced sexism and harassment within the organisation to come forward before an independent investigation promised by the union has been established.
The union has urged members to come forward with concerns through the BMA’s existing complaints process - and GPonline has learned that the BMA’s top official has personally emailed women who have spoken out publicly to offer support from consultants appointed by the BMA.
One GP who received the email said this also reflected a lack of insight on the part of the BMA - because she felt ‘intimidated’ to receive an unexpected email directly from the BMA chair after working hours, and had asked someone else to open it on her behalf because she had ‘no idea what it was going to contain’.
Offer of support
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul’s email, sent on behalf of the association, offered doctors the chance to speak to ‘independent specialists’ appointed to provide support beyond the standard BMA complaints process.
Doctors have told GPonline that they recognise the intention of Dr Nagpaul’s email was to provide support. However, some GPs said they felt the appointment of the specialists - who have carried out work previously with the BMA - called into question the association’s commitment to a genuinely independent investigation into reports of a ‘sexist culture’.
BMA leaders apologised and promised an investigation earlier this week after women who are past and present members of its GP committee spoke out about sexism and harassment - and the association has said it will not tolerate ‘sexist, disrespectful, discriminatory and abusive behaviour’.
However, senior GPs have questioned whether doctors can feel comfortable speaking out either through the existing BMA process or through the specialists at this stage.
Code of conduct
GPC member and East Sussex LMC chair Dr Russell Brown told GPonline: ‘The suggestion of utilising the code of conduct procedures - previously known as Living our Values - before any investigation and resolution demonstrates a similar level of lack of insight by the association into these issues as before.
‘I find it inconceivable that anybody would wish to utilise those processes given how ineffective they have been historically and more especially now that it is public knowledge that they have failed many people.’
Former GPC member Dr Stephanie deGiorgio - one of the recipients of emails from Dr Nagpaul - said she felt the BMA’s invitation for doctors to go through the existing complaints mechanism or to talk to specialists with existing links to the BMA showed a lack of insight.
She said: ‘I understand that the email was sent on behalf of the organisation, but to have it appear in my inbox in the evening with the name of the chair on there was intimidating.
Lack of insight
‘I had no idea what it was going to contain and had to send it to someone else to check it before I read it. It seems to add evidence that an organisation that felt this was appropriate to do, has no insight into the feelings of those affected by the behaviour we are discussing.
‘To then have it offer me support from someone who already works with the BMA further compounded the anger I was feeling.’
However, another GPC member who spoke to GPonline said the BMA's response was reassuring and seemed to show it was not simply putting its head in the sand. She said the decision to launch an investigation had given her confidence that doctors speaking out about inappropriate behaviour would be taken seriously.
A BMA spokesperson said: ‘The BMA is fully committed to an independent investigation and offering immediate interim support in advance of that does not detract from this.’
On the decision to appoint specialists, the spokesperson added: ‘This was a separate offer to provide immediate additional support from independent advisors if necessary, given this is understandably a time of distress for those concerned. In order to be able to provide support at short notice, the BMA called upon known independent specialists.’
The spokesperson reiterated Dr Nagpaul’s apology to women affected by sexism and harassment within the organisation. He added: ‘The chair of council was appalled to hear of the behaviours described by his colleagues, and as the most senior elected representative of the organisation he felt it his duty to reach out to the individuals concerned to express this personally and to offer them any support they may need. This was done in the best of faith and with integrity. The BMA is therefore sorry if this has caused offence or upset to those involved.’