GPC chair apologises over sexism and backs independent BMA-wide investigation

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey has apologised over sexism and harassment experienced by top women GPs within the committee and backed an independent BMA-wide investigation.

GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)
GPC chair Dr Richard Vautrey (Photo: BMA)

Dr Vautrey said he was 'seriously concerned and saddened' to hear accounts of unacceptable behaviour by male GPC members - and apologised to women affected.

His response came less than 24 hours after BMA chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul - Dr Vautrey's predecessor as GPC chair - issued his own apology to women affected and promised an 'urgent investigation' to stamp out unacceptable behaviour.

Dr Nagpaul's apology came after GPC sessional subcommittee chair Dr Zoe Norris and UK LMCs conference chair Dr Katie Bramall-Stainer wrote in an article for GPonline that sexism had driven out a generation of women leaders from the profession.

Sexist culture

GPonline also reported on senior GPs speaking out over a 'sexist culture' in the GPC. Women within the committee have flagged up experiences including belittling, crude and sexist comments, being frozen out of meetings or ignored and sexually harassed by some male colleagues.

Dr Vautrey said: 'I am seriously concerned and saddened to hear my colleagues describe this unacceptable behaviour within GPC and other national GP meetings, and as chair I want to apologise to those who have been hurt by this

'We cannot tolerate any outdated culture within the BMA, and as chair of GPC I will redouble my efforts to eradicate it in all areas that I can.

'I would personally like to thank the colleagues who spoke out in these articles for having the courage to talk openly about these issues, and giving all of us, including myself as committee chair, an opportunity to learn, act and change.

'Their contribution to GPC and the wider BMA is something I have and continue to value and I am determined to address any behaviours that could lead to us losing the skills and talents of colleagues, as this will be to the detriment of the whole profession.'

Representation

Both Dr Norris and Dr Bramall Stainer wrote that they would not be seeking prominent GPC roles in future 'largely because of the experiences we have had at the hands of some colleagues'.

Dr Vautrey recognised that representation within GPC committees and groups 'needs to be improved'. Women are outnumbered two to one in the 77-strong GPC - despite more than half of GPs in the NHS workforce being women - and have told GPonline that within subcommittees and groups it is not uncommon to be the only woman in the room.

GP leaders have warned that until BMA committees reflect the growing number of sessional doctors in the workforce, they will 'by default' under-represent women because women are disproportionately represented in those sections of the workforce.

Dr Vautrey added: 'I want GPC to be a safe place for all members, who should feel supported, listened to, treated with respect, and be enabled to take as full a role as they want and are able to. As in our wider medical professional life, we must learn from any mistakes and errors so that we give all involved confidence that they don't happen again.

Diversity

'I recognise that representation across GPC's committees and groups needs to be improved, which is why I commissioned a gender diversity report last year, the recommendations of which, just last week, the UK committee fully agreed to implement.

'There is though more that needs to be done, which is why I have requested an independent BMA-wide investigation, which will now be launched and which myself and GPC will do everything we can to assist with. This will be an independent, external review so that members have the confidence that we are taking these issues seriously and making the necessary changes in response.

'I would also encourage any of my GPC or LMC colleagues on the receiving end of any abuse, discrimination or inappropriate behaviour to raise this immediately with myself or my GPC England Executive colleagues, or my fellow national GPC chairs, or through the BMA centrally, so that we can deal with each and every incident as quickly as possible.'

NHS England medical director of primary care Dr Nikita Kanani has also spoken out over sexism experienced by senior GPs. She said: 'The behaviours described by some of my colleagues belong firmly in the past. They have no place in our profession, and no place in our leadership, and we will not stand for everyday sexism.'

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