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A letter from Sussex Place, February 2012

Ian Currie, Honorary Secretary, explores the differences between the Royal Medical Colleges and the trade unions…

A trade union is an organisation of workers that have come together to achieve common goals, such as better conditions in the workplace. Through its elected leadership, it bargains on behalf of its members to negotiate with employers on issues that may include wages, health and safety, benefits and policies. This collective bargaining process is aimed at formulating legislative agreements that regulate working conditions.

I believe that we would all like the RCOG to act on our behalf looking after our own individual and personal interests as well as those of our patients, particularly in such times when global financial constraints are putting vast pressures on the clinical care we aspire as consultants to deliver in our hospitals.

Whose responsibility is it then to negotiate on behalf of the medical workforce on issues such as terms and conditions of service?

Should the College be directly involved in negotiations on the salaries of its Fellows and Members or lobbying for that matter on pension rights? I believe not.

Collective bargaining is just that, safety in numbers. There are organisations such as the BMA that can act in this way and it is important that we make individual representation to bodies like this so that we may affect change for our own working conditions. The College could assist by being mindful of the adverse effect that some clinical standards have upon the work-life balance of consultants and not lose touch of the reality of providing high quality obstetric and gynaecological care at the coal face

The RCOG however, is a fundamentally different institution than that of a trade union. Firstly, it is a registered charity that has a Royal Charter and, as such has elected representatives on a Council, all of whom are present as trustees. A trustee’s role in whatever capacity is an extremely important one, with responsibilities such as accountability, strategic direction and financial sustainability. Council representatives and Officers have a fiduciary relationship with the College, acting at all times, honestly, in good faith, and above all keeping the best interest of patients at the forefront of their minds all the time.

As a registered charity the College is bound in its workings by strict legislation laid down by the Charities Commission. This charities framework does not mean, however that the College, nor its elected body have lost sight into the issues that are important in the working lives of its members and fellows. Quite the contrary, the work currently being undertaken within the working party entitled the ‘Tomorrows Specialist’ is an all important piece of work that will give the strategic direction to the realities of the changes within our jobs that we are currently are facing within our profession, and how they are likely to develop over the next few years.

The most recent discussion within the political arena and the medical profession surrounding the ‘Health and Social Care Bill’ have made it clear to me that those individuals who are representing you as trustees on Council feel as passionate as ever about the structure of the NHS. I would like to reassure you that every representative on Council has contributed to vigorous debate in order to reach a consensus statement that ultimately came out in support of critical engagement over the Health Bill, still recognising there were many issues that needed further discussion and dialogue. Not everyone round the table always has the same point of view but this decision had Council’s full support and to the best of my knowledge this has not changed over the last few weeks. It was felt that severing those communication links would not be in the best interest of ultimately providing ‘High Quality Women’s Healthcare’.

You will no doubt be aware that an EGM has been called by the President and this is scheduled to take on Friday, 9th March at 4 pm. The fact that this meeting is in London should not disadvantage Members and Fellows further afield being able to air their views. I would urge you to email me ( with your views on whether the position of continuing critical engagement is the right way forward.

Within training we often talk about how vital it is to have good communication skills. These core attributes are fundamental to our specialty and are present in every good O&G clinician. Walking away from the table at this juncture and not engaging cuts off those lines of discussion and would in my view be a retrograde step.

Ian Currie
RCOG Honorary Secretary

If you have any comments, please write to