Former GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash on medico-politics and parenthood

A month after losing her post on the GPC negotiating team, Dr Beth McCarron-Nash remains tight-lipped about whether she will run for re-election next year.

Dr McCarron-Nash: I went into medico-politics because I could see what would happen with the new contract (Photograph: Jason Heath Lancy)
Dr McCarron-Nash: I went into medico-politics because I could see what would happen with the new contract (Photograph: Jason Heath Lancy)

After she became the youngest ever GPC negotiator four years ago at the age of 35, it came as a shock to many to see the Cornwall GP voted out.

She was up against highly experienced competition and with five candidates for four posts, something had to give. But until the news was confirmed, it seemed unlikely the GPC would permit the loss of its only female, only salaried negotiator.

Huge respect

Dr McCarron-Nash lost her seat to Dr Dean Marshall, who sought election for the post after standing down after six years as chairman of GPC Scotland.

She has huge respect for her replacement, saying Dr Marshall has been ‘an excellent negotiator’. She adds that as a member of the wider GPC, she will remain active in medico-politics. ‘I will be a full active member of the GPC. It is no dishonour being a backbencher and I will continue to lobby.’

She admits that being a negotiator has been tough. ‘If you are looking for glory, you wouldn’t become a negotiator,’ she says. ‘I would say to people if you think it is bad now, you should see where we started from in negotiations.’ During her four-year tenure she has taken the lead in the GPC negotiating team on matters such as sessionals, QOF, education, training, workforce and GP trainees.

I'll lobby from the backbenches

‘The reason that I went into medico-politics as a trainee on the BMA trainee subcommittee was because I could see what would happen with the new contract, in that it would create a second class of GPs out of salaried GPs.’ The mother-of-one says she did not resent constantly being referred to as the only female negotiator and admits she brought a different style of negotiating to the team.

‘Women do have a different negotiating style,’ she says. On being voted out, she adds: ‘It is a big thing to take in public. It was a huge part of my life for four years and I did my utmost to ensure that all GPs were represented.’

One person who will be relieved that she gets to spend more time at home will be her eight-year-old son. She says: ‘He would often say: "Oh no, not your BlackBerry again." When he found out I had been voted off, he said: "But who will defend the NHS now?" and I told him, "I think the boys will manage.".’

Being a negotiator meant Dr McCarron-Nash had to spend two days a week in London at BMA House. She says it was really a full-time job. ‘It is a huge commitment, an extremely demanding role. I was aware of the implications and of what I was able to achieve.’

Negative impact

Already the GPC has had to take measures to stop any perceived negative repercussions from her departure. It has said sessional GPC subcommittee chairwoman Dr Vicky Weeks will from this month ‘regularly’ attend its negotiator meetings and deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey will take on the sessional brief.

Dr McCarron-Nash has backed the move. Although she was often singled out for her gender, she believes it was the breadth of her experience that brought the most value to the GPC. ‘I have been a flexible career doctor in Berkshire, a PCT-employed GP in Leeds going into struggling practices to improve their QOF scores, and a partner in Devon.

‘Sessional representation is going to be more difficult with clinical commissioning groups, because in some areas they have been trying to include them in electing their boards, but in many areas it is one practice, one vote. We need to think about those young doctors. We need more sessionals on LMCs.’

Asked what she would say to any sessional or female GPs put off careers in medico-politics after seeing her lose out, she says: ‘Working in medico-politics is difficult. If you have enjoyed it at local level, I would encourage you to get involved. I am not somebody who looks at the top of the mountain. It has been a rollercoaster ride so far.’

She is reluctant to say what the future holds for the GP contract, saying it is difficult to comment during negotiations. It is the importance of teamwork that keeps Dr McCarron-Nash optimistic about the future of medico-politics. She says: ‘I respect the electoral process. I am an extremely pragmatic person. I did not like to think that I was more safe than anyone else. The GPC elects the team. No individual is stronger than a team.’

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