The Dorset GP, who works in a sessional capacity and as a senior GP appraiser, took on the BMA leadership role in an acting capacity from February 2019 before being elected in June that year.
Dr McKeown will be replaced by paediatric respiratory trainee Dr Latifa Patel, who will become acting chair until an election is held in June 2022. Dr Patel will become the first junior doctor and the first female doctor from an ethnic minority to chair the BMA's representative body in the association's history.
In a statement confirming her decision to stand down, Dr McKeown said: 'It has been a privilege to serve the BMA and I am extremely proud of the changes the BMA has been able to bring about in that time, especially those to better reflect the diversity of the membership we represent and to better hear the democratic voice of frontline doctors.
'On climate change I am pleased that we have been able to set a new direction for a sustainable carbon neutral future for the association. It is with sadness that for personal reasons I am stepping back from my current role at the BMA.
'I’d like to thank the many colleagues who had faith in me being their voice and have supported me; none of these achievements occurred without the hard work of dedicated staff, fellow chief officers, doctors and medical students. Our profession has risen to these unprecedented times and friends and colleagues have tragically paid the ultimate price or had their wellbeing affected in their care of patients and the NHS, and I am truly humbled by their personal sacrifices.'
BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said Dr McKeown had played a 'critical role' in helping the association and its membership to work through the COVID-19 pandemic. He said: 'On behalf of BMA council and the whole association I want to thank Helena for her contribution and dedication as representative body chair and chief officer as well as years of previous service to the BMA.
'As a chief officer she played a leading role on a range of issues including climate change, workforce strategy, diversity and gender equality and also led the development of our network of elected women.
'On a more personal level I also want to thank Helena as a colleague who has a played a critical role in helping the association and the wider membership through the challenges of the pandemic – tackling head on the key issues doctors have faced from the availability of PPE to wellbeing and mental health support. She also successfully led and delivered the association’s first ever virtual annual representative meeting last year. I wish her the very best for the future.'
Dr McKeown has worked in the BMA for more than two decades, serving on the BMA's GP committee, as chair of her regional council, and as chair of the BMA community care committee.
In September last year, Dr McKeown told GPonline that the government must commit to a public inquiry over COVID-19 - something the government has now pledged to do. Prime minister Boris Johnson has faced intense criticism for refusing to commit to an immediate inquiry - instead promising it could start next year.
In addition to helping establish the BMA network of elected women, Dr McKeown has spoken out on the gender pay gap in medicine, and challenged the lack of support for doctors experiencing the menopause.