New leader of Scots doctors' union has a hard act to follow

AT THE bottom of this article, in italics, a few details about me are given. They identify me as "a practising GP and a member of the Scottish council of the BMA".

The practising GP is straight forward: I do what 3,500 other Scottish GPs do – try and keep patients living healthily.

The Scottish council of the BMA bit takes a bit more explaining. The British Medical Association is a trade union, representing the interests of doctors and, since the demise of the mining industry, is occasionally called the most powerful trade union in the country.

The BMA is perhaps better known for its role as a professional membership organisation, established to promote the interests of health, and as such publishes a raft of scientific literature including one of the world's leading journals the British Medical Journal. The research papers it publishes are frequently reported on in this newspaper.

The Scottish council, of which I am a member, meets three times a year and is, essentially, the BMA north of the Border.

"Why all this information?" you might ask. Well, the reason is that last week the leadership of the BMA in Scotland changed. Dr Peter Terry an obstetrician and gynaecologist from Aberdeen stood down after five years leading the Scottish council.

Dr Terry has achieved many things during his time in office, steering the medical profession through multiple changes in our Scottish health service at a time when health services were diverging across the UK.

His greatest achievement however, and I think he would agree with me, was his role in leading the successful campaign for a ban on smoking in public places in Scotland – a policy copied south of the Border and a wonderful legacy for our Scottish Parliament.

Even though the full Scottish council only meets three times a year, the job of chairman takes a couple of days a week, sometimes more. The chairman is the voice of the medical profession in Scotland, and with health and the National Health Service (the largest employer in the country) being much in the news, he has to have frequent dialogue with politicians and the media.

He is, of course, supported by a very professional team of "civil servants" and the chairmen of the craft committees are there to consult on any particularly sticky issues.

Craft committees are the groupings of doctors in Scotland. The big ones are the consultants, the GPs, the doctors in training, and the future doctors – the medical students.

Smaller groups include the doctors employed by the universities – the medical academics and the staff and associate specialist doctors, a little-known group who work principally in hospital, nominally under consultant supervision but with a significant degree of autonomy.

These groupings deal with their own issues while the chairman of Scottish council deals with the overarching issues in medicine such as ethics, health service organisation and the doctors' role.

But enough of the detail, what about the new guy? The members of Scottish council have gone for wisdom and experience, electing Dr Brian Keighley, a senior GP from Stirlingshire.

Dr Keighley's CV is impressive and provides insight into a 36-year career, starting as a young junior doctor in the hospital wards of Glasgow; his development of an interest in medical politics locally and then as leader of Scottish GPs.

He was an elected Scottish member of the doctors' regulatory body, the General Medical Council, and has a keen interest in medical education and teaching.

There is a wealth of knowledge, skills and experience in this leader and we can look forward to a strong and dynamic contribution to the debates on Scotland's health.

Rather selfishly, I hope that there are some pressing issues or maybe a crisis later this month when he and I go on our annual pilgrimage to the Outer Hebrides to fish. Perhaps his new-found fame and its demands on his time will allow me to catch a few more sea trout than him for a change.

&#149 Dr John Garner is a practising GP and a member of the Scottish Council of the BMA.