AT A GLANCE: BMA battles to maintain its flailing reputation

What’s going on?
British Medical Association (BMA) chairman James Johnson resigned last Sunday. The BMA has been at the centre of a long-running controversy over the appointment of junior doctors – who are BMA members – to specialist training posts.

Is this the online recruitment problem?
Exactly. The BMA has been among critics who say that the Department of Health’s online Medical Training Application Service (MTAS) has left thousands of doctors facing unemploy­ment, partly due to both a confusing application process and computer problems.

How did the media cover Johnson’s resignation?
It made the main news bullet­ins and all Monday’s broadsheets carr­ied the story. Headlines such as ‘BMA chief quits over botched job system’ (The Independent) were typical.

So Johnson resigned in disgust at the government?
Well, no. Johnson had written a letter to The Times defending the chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson. A BMA statement said that the lett­er’s tone ‘failed to reflect the anger being currently expressed by mem­bers of the Association, particularly junior doctors. It was felt to be insuffi­ciently sensitive and has led to a loss of confidence in the chairman’.

How has the BMA comms team played it?
It put up Johnson for an interview – he is still the chairman for a short while – on Channel 4 News on the day of his resignation and on Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday. The team, led by director of comms Brian Butler, also issued a press release in which BMA treasurer David Pickersgill explained why Johnson had resigned.

Has the BMA come out of this particularly well?
The waters are a little muddy. It’s true that MTAS has been shelved for second round interviews and the organisation thinks that Johnson’s letter damaged its reputation. But on its own website it poses the question: ‘Why hasn’t the BMA done more to fight MTAS?’, which suggests it knows that not all doctors think it has cover­ed itself in glory anyway. But the BMA has come out fighting, saying that it has generated ‘extensive’ media coverage on the debacle.

For further information visit www.bma.org.uk

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