Chair, BMA council UP 32

Hamish Meldrum’s role as chair of the BMA council is the most unenviable job in medical politics. At first glance his task is simple: to represent UK doctors and be their voice. But UK doctors are a diverse bunch, so it is a task sometimes more akin to herding cats than heading up a professional body.

Hamish is a thoughtful, patient centred GP, who has risen through the BMA ranks and continues to practice in Bridlington, East Yorkshire. He was a member of the team that negotiated the current GMS contract and was chairman of the BMA GPs committee between 2004 and 2007.

He has used his GP skills of listening and empathy for opposing views to keep the BMA intact and moving forward as a UK body. Not only must Hamish balance the competing interests of junior doctors, specialists and general practitioners but also take account of the priorities and concerns of doctors in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - smaller in number than in England but often louder in voice. 

If a lesser person had been in the job, we would have seen the BMA pulled apart under the threat of the white paper but he can see advantages to some of the proposed policies, as well as problems, and he has been very skilled in how he has used his language to take some policies forward, negotiate on others and to disagree when required. Hamish has articulated skilfully the real concerns about privatisation.

The fact that Hamish has held the position of council chair for three years is no small feat and says much for his abilities. I have seen him in action, he is incredibly skilled and the BMA is stronger because of him.

Hamish has moved up from number 35 last year to third place this year, which reflects the power that the BMA now holds. From an influence point of view the BMA is critical because it could derail the coalition’s white paper reforms, which propose a clinically led system. If the BMA were to say no, then the whole initiative could grind to a halt. The BMA is powerful and, under the skilful leadership of Hamish, it is playing the game rather than opposing all of the time. 

Hamish will be judged on how he manages the BMA’s competing interests in the face of the coalition’s health policies: handing commissioning powers to general practice will be a hard pill to swallow for some of the specialist crafts, especially when there is also a threat to consultants’ distinction awards.

Professor Steve Field, outgoing chair, Royal College of GPs (see 21)