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Romney review: BMA says “real and meaningful progress” is being made on sexism

BMJ 2022; 377 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.o1527 (Published 22 June 2022) Cite this as: BMJ 2022;377:o1527
  1. Matthew Limb
  1. London

The BMA has produced a report charting the progress it has made to embed the recommendations from Daphne Romney QC’s 2019 investigation into sexism and sexual harassment at the organisation.

The report, shared with The BMJ ahead of its publication, comes as the BMA faces mounting pressure to act on Romney’s findings and as leading female doctors told The BMJ that the process of responding to the landmark inquiry was taking too long.1

Latifa Patel, the newly elected chair of the BMA’s representative body, said the report showed the BMA was committed to making “real and meaningful progress” to improving its culture but acknowledged that “there is plenty still to do.”

The report, entitled Improving Culture and Inclusion at the BMA, highlights a rise in the proportion of female members in BMA leadership positions (committee chairs and deputy chairs), from 29.3% in March 2019 to 36.9% in March 2022.

But amid concerns that women were still heavily outnumbered on the BMA council and that this could be deterring many from standing, data for elections to council show that the proportion has barely risen at all: there has been just a half percentage point increase in the number of women, to 38% of members elected in 2022, from 37.5% in 2018.

Across all BMA committees the percentage of female committee members has increased from 36.7% in March 2019 to 41.8% in March 2022.

In her 2019 report Romney made 31 recommendations covering the broad areas of culture, calling out, listservers (email discussion forums used by elected members), the resolution process, and committees.

Analysis for the BMA by independent auditors (summarised in the report) found that 55% of the Romney recommendations had been implemented so far, 18% partly implemented, 18% outstanding, and 9% with “deliverables to be identified.”

The BMA set up a Culture Inclusion Oversight Group in November 2019 with a broader remit to consider inclusion across all diversity strands.

The report noted that its England General Practitioners Committee had elected its first woman chair from an ethnic minority background. It added that the new intake of council members was the “most ethnically diverse council in BMA history.” Over a third (35%) of those who were voted in identify as being of an ethnic minority; this compares with 12% for the 2018 intake of council members.

Other actions the BMA said it had taken to implement the Romney report include:

  • Creating a BMA network of elected women to help and support elected women members

  • Hosting training to improve culture and launching a BMA Speak Up Guardian Service in June 2020 to allow committee members and staff to discuss matters relating to “work grievances, whistleblowing, bullying and harassment, staff safety, and anything that doesn’t feel quite right at the BMA”

  • Introducing additional warning procedures over use of listservers

  • Updating committee standardised standing orders to include a limit to the number of committees that a person can be elected to from within a committee—this will be in place from June 2022.

But Fay Wilson, an elected member of the BMA’s GP committee and a former member of BMA council, said that the progress report lacked the detailed action plan for delivering on the Romney review that members expected.

“Not only is it insufficient, it may make things worse,” Wilson said. “It has been expanded into a general diversity report on all protected characteristics. This keeps happening with the issue of women in the BMA. There needs to be an appendix with each of the Romney recommendations set out along with what action has been taken and state of implementation, or it just looks like obfuscation.

“I realise there is a mad dash to publish something before the ARM [annual representative meeting, on 27-29 June] as people realise the membership is not content with what has been done. I doubt if this report will do much to stifle the dismay among women in the BMA who feel dismayed by what has been happening for the last few years.”

A BMA spokesperson said, “The progress report is being published ahead of ARM to help inform debate and ensure the organisation is transparent on progress made. As Dr Latifa Patel confirms in her introduction, ‘while the report shows all the positive progress that has been made, we still have a long way to go and we will continue to talk and work with our members and staff and report on our progress annually.’”

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