The history of the BMA
For over 175 years, the BMA has represented doctors and promoted good healthcare for all.
It was formed in the days before anaesthetics and antibiotics, when avoidable and early deaths from disease or injury were common.
The British Medical Association was founded in 1832 by Sir Charles Hastings, a doctor in Worcester, as the Provincial and Medical Surgical Association. Hastings wanted a ‘friendly and scientific’ forum where doctors could advance and exchange medical knowledge.
In 1855, the organisation became the BMA, and its weekly medical publication became the British Medical Journal. An early leading role for the BMA was in the Medical Act of 1858, which created the General Medical Council and the Medical Register.
The BMA began the twentieth century with a new constitution. The Representative Body met for the first time at the annual representative meeting (ARM), still the Association’s foremost policy-making body.
During both world wars, the BMA organised medical services for military forces and civilian populations.
The National Health Service was created shortly after World War Two. The BMA supported the principle but objected to health minister Aneurin Bevan’s initial plan to impose the new system on doctors.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, the BMA gave evidence to Government inquiries leading to reform of laws on divorce and homosexuality. Major enquires by the Government and the BMA resulted in the establishment of the independent pay review body for doctors and dentists.
In 1974, the BMA was recognised as a trade union and campaigned vigorously for improvements in junior doctors pay and conditions.
BMA reports in the 1980s discussed medical responses to AIDS and the threat of nuclear war. It opposed the first Government attempts to introduce market forces to the NHS.
Today the BMA faces challenges such as cuts to NHS services and jobs, European Union directives on employment and training, and technological advances in diagnosis and treatment.
It speaks for doctors at all stages of their careers, campaigns for the NHS and on global issues such as the fight against obesity, and contributes to debates on issues such as assisted dying and genetic engineering.