Will the BMA always lose the media war?

Last week I suggested that we have in part brought the Darzi clinics upon ourselves by not disciplining our incompetent colleagues, nor making ourselves readily accessible to patients in a truly user-friendly manner.

But there is more: our representatives have let us down too. In the BMA we have a union that is patronising, arrogant and blinkered. The academic philosopher Jamie Whyte uses the BMA as an example of 'the authority fallacy': where a person or organisation believes that its undoubted competence in one field entitles it to act with authority in another. The BMA is clearly competent in medical matters; but that does not make it an expert on economics, politics or negotiation strategy.

Time and again our representatives have been wrong-footed. Their most spectacular mistake was over the implementation of the original Carr-Hill formula which they accepted on trust from the government without checking its effects on their own practices. In addition, they failed to spot the legal loopholes in the contract which subsequently allowed the government to wriggle out of its commitments to limit our hours of work. Is this the authority syndrome at work? We need a specialised negotiating team, not a bunch of well-meaning amateurs.

What about media relations and acquiring the ear of Joe Public? Again the authority syndrome rears its ugly head. The BMA's public face should consist of doctors who are truly media-friendly, yet to my knowledge none of its spokespeople have been drawn from societies such as the Association of Broadcasting Doctors, Media Medics, or the Society of Medical Writers. Why not?

Even the police have discovered that conveying bad news about their activities is best done by sending a female officer to talk to the press, because she will come across more warmly than a man. Nor are media-friendly doctors merely good on camera - they know how to get the public's attention.

Instead of interviews with the head of the GP negotiators or the chairman of the BMA, the PR that the BMA needs involves media-friendly doctors with warm and engaging personalities. No wonder the BMA is always out-negotiated and out-manipulated; and no wonder it is losing the media war.

Dr Lancelot is a GP from Lancashire. Email him at GPcolumnists@haymarket.com

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