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How To ... become a medical

Novice GP politicians must learn to take criticism in their stride, says Jennifer Taylor.

GPs have come in for a hard time lately what with no pay award and unfair criticism in the national media, to mention a couple of issues.

If this has made you want to play an active role in medical politics, here are some tips on how to get involved.

Join the BMA and your LMC
The BMA has resources that can help you with research and dealing with the media. Being up to speed on local issues is often the best way to begin and your LMC is the forum for airing your views.

Greater Manchester GP Dr Kailash Chand is secretary of West Pennine LMC and a member of the GPC and BMA Council. He says: 'LMCs are always on the look-out for people who can make the time, who understand local issues and can articulate nicely.'

Get involved with the local authority
Another way to get involved is to join your local council's overview and scrutiny committee's health panel, given the government's policy to promote joined-up working between social care and health services. Dr Chand says that health panel members try to bring together the medical profession, social services and patients to provide 'seamless' care.

Have a PCO role
Merseyside GP Dr James Kingsland, chairman of the National Association of Primary Care (NAPC), distinguishes between two types of medical politics: pay negotiations/GP contract and clinical service delivery/patient care.

If your main interest is the latter, he suggests finding a role with your primary care organisation (PCO) and the SHA or its equivalent in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Devon GP Dr David Jenner, NHS Alliance lead on the GMS contract and practice based commissioning says about PCO work: 'You've got to come forward with positive proposals, not just negative criticism.'

Go regional
The BMA's regional councils in England are becoming 'more and more important,' says Tyne and Wear GP Dr George Rae, chairman of the BMA's North Eastern Council and GPC member. The regional councils are a way to get involved with issues that encompass not only general practice, but also medical students, junior doctors, consultants and the associate specialists.

Go national
As well as aiming for GPC (UK-wide) membership or membership of England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland GPCs you could join the NHS Alliance or NAPC .

Campaign on an issue
GPs entering medical politics do so because they feel passionate about an issue. Dr Richard Fieldhouse, National Association of Sessional GPs chief executive, started with a letter campaign in GP about the need for representation for locums.

'It led to invitations to speak at conferences and to the GMC,' he says.

Keep track of expenses
Make sure you and your practice do not lose out financially from your political activities by keeping receipts for related expenses. Stirlingshire GP Dr Brian Keighley is treasurer of the GPC's General Practitioners Defence Fund and GMC deputy treasurer. He explains that most LMCs reimburse members' mileage and may provide a money sum towards their locum costs.

The General Practitioners Defence Fund supports the work of the GPC (including Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish GPCs) and its subcommittees. A set scale for members' expenses includes hotel bills, travel and locum costs.

BMA Council has a similar scale.

Don't be discouraged
Dr Chand says: 'Politics is not for promoting personal agendas, it is about understanding other people's.' Dr Kingsland adds: 'Expect criticism but use that to develop your skills, your knowledge, and how you deal with people.' Dr Jenner advises: 'keep checking back to your vision and values.'

Case study: Dr Pauline Brimblecombe

Cambridge GP Dr Pauline Brimblecombe's journey into medical politics began with a local issue. In the early 1990s, an eighth, male gynaecologist was appointed at Addenbrooke's Hospital, adding to its all-male team despite the availability of good female candidates. 'That made me cross so I contacted the Medical Women's Federation,' she says.

She joined the MWF and became its president in 2002.

Dr Brimblecombe says that individual GPs need an organisation to back them up otherwise they tend to get demoralised. In 2001 she took the MWF's seat on the GPC and is reaching the end of her six-year stint.

She describes the GPC as a 'complete culture shock' and her first few meetings left her in tears: 'It is a club and members all know each other, or a lot of them do. I felt a complete outsider.'

It took time and MWF support to get used to the GPC and she says that persistence and confidence are necessary qualities in national medical politics. She is now set to play a role in a much smaller arena as chair of her local practice based commissioning consortium. But her national level medical politics experience was useful. 'I certainly wouldn't have the confidence to do this if I hadn't done other things first.'

RESOURCES
- BMA www.bma.org.uk
- Medical Women's Federation www.medicalwomensfederation.org.uk
- National Association of Primary Care www.napc.co.uk
- National Association of Sessional GPs www.nasgp.org.uk
- NHS Alliance www.nhsalliance.org

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