Founded in 1964, we are proud of providing education to non-clinical health staff and being a representative professional body. The following is how we have taken that journey so far....
AMSPAR was founded in 1964 by a group of general practitioners and college tutors. It was then called the Association of Medical Secretaries. It is registered as a charity because of its activities in the field of education. AMSPAR is a recognised educational awarding body, with our diploma qualifications recognised by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.
During the 1960s and 1970s the popularity of the association grew, and as well as promoting the interests of medical secretaries, it started looking after receptionists and medical admin staff.
In 1979 the name of the association was changed to reflect the new membership, and became the Association of Medical Secretaries, Practice Administrators and Receptionists.
The next change was in 1996, when the new role of Practice Manager was acknowledged (the role was introduced in 1990) – the name was changed to include them, but the acronym, being well known, was left unchanged. Today we are known by this acronym and our logo. We now represent all non-clinical staff, including primary care, secondary care, the private sector, the third sector, the prison service and our armed forces. Membership also extends internationally, such as Australia, New Zealand and Bermuda.
Over the years there has been a steady increase in interest in AMSPAR courses from employers and approximately 2,500 students take our courses each year. These are provided by our own Health Academy or via a network of accreditied centres nation-wide.
AMSPAR is the largest professional body for health ancillary staff in the UK, and alongside the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Nursing was regularily consulted by central government. We were and are represented on a number of national bodies, which included the Medical Secretary advisory group of the NHS Modernisation Agency, the Doctor Patient Partnership and many others. We were involved in the campaign for providing pension schemes, staff involvement in the NHS, combating racial harassment in the workplace, combating violence against NHS staff and the provision of a national occupational health service to primary care staff.
We currently campaign for fair pay and equal rights for all administrative roles. We also believe that all staff should have a training fund for their lifelong learning and be able to access bursaries or receive full funding for their education. What we cannot do is act in respect of improving pay and conditions for our members, as we are not a trade union. We do, however, take every opportunity to raise the matter at a relevant level. We offer our members access to the library services of the British Medical Association, a free legal helpline, and a wide range of work and non-work related benefits. We also offer our comprehensive suite of qualifications, including FREE training to anyone who is eligible.
AMSPAR has a board of Trustees, and is managed by our Head Office, which is based in London. It has an Executive Committee and is supported by an Advisory Board, all of whom are drawn from existing membership.
During the early years of the 60's there began to be a feeling that the system of single-handed GP practices, or just two doctors in partnership was reminiscent of the days before the introduction of the National Health Service, and an inefficient method of ensuring a healthy nation. Constraints on the time of doctors meant that preventive medicine was unheard of. Appointments to see the doctor were a rarity – patients turned up and waited. The doctors generally found the patients’ notes for themselves, unless there was a dutiful wife who helped out, or a local lady who did the cleaning and made the tea as well.
To improve the efficiency of the health service group practices were introduced. This gave patients a choice; either make an appointment to see “their” doctor if there was a non-urgent matter to discuss, but still see a doctor if something was urgent. The introduction of group practices meant the need for practice staff – someone to do the non-clinical work. The lady who “obliged” began to be replaced by ladies with (often) secretarial experience, who were trustworthy in an area where confidentiality was, and still is, of paramount importance. Unfortunately, the perception of some of these ladies, (who became very protective of “their” doctors) was that they were barriers not bridges.
Occasionally cartoons would appear in the media, showing a large, formidable lady leaning over a reception desk uttering words such as “now what’s all this nonsense about you being ill”? The unkind description of these ladies was that they were suitable adversaries for St. George! How times have rightly changed. During this time, interested people were meeting to discuss the advantages of having properly trained staff -–higher levels of efficiency for example, being beneficial to both doctors and patients.
The general consensus of these discussions was that it was geographically impractical to offer one central course, it would have to be offered via a network of centres nationally, but with uniform content and levels of tuition. Course end assessment would be needed, as would some form of official recognition. With assistance from the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners, negotiations began with the then Department of Education and Science, Department of Health and Social Security and a number of representatives from interested colleges. This led to the structuring of a course for potential medical secretaries at a number of colleges around the country for candidates who could prove a certain minimum standard of education. Course content was to be suitable for any form of medical secretarial appointment – private or NHS, hospital or surgery based or even in research. By this means it was felt that a medical secretary with the proper qualification could move easily between health related sectors. Of course, a central body was necessary to provide administrative support; to arrange tuition, arrange the preparation and marking of exam papers etc, and so came about the Association of Medical Secretaries.
Conceived in 1964, AMSPAR was formally created on 21st May 1965 as the Association of Medical Secretaries, when the original subscribers; a barrister, four doctors, a state registered nurse and a college principal signed the Memorandum and Articles of Association. First priority was to set up the education side of the Association. Income was needed if the Association was to survive (some things never change), and this would come from fees for courses and exams. Publicity was necessary, but this could only happen once there were successful students; hence the formation of the Education Committee.
The members of the committee were drawn from the Department for Education and Science, the Department of Health and Social Security, the British Medical Association, the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal Society of Arts, the armed forces and college staff as well as members of the Association itself. At the same time the Examination Board was set up.
In the early days, a committee vetted all membership applications; apparently acceptance was not always as swift as it is today. We are told that one lady applied in 1966, and was notified of acceptance in 1968. Probably because of administrative problems! Today the figure is more likely to significantly quicker. Until students started passing the exams, the only members were those who were in qualifying employment.
At first membership fees were the main source of income, as income from course and exam fees took time to materialise. It was at this stage that the British Medical Association kindly provided an interest-free loan, which was totally repaid in 1970. It is interesting to note that, in accordance with a resolution passed at an Extraordinary General Meeting held in 1969, the Register of Members was closed as from 1st January 1970 to anyone who had not qualified for entry by examination. There were a few applications from those who, for various reasons, were unable to enter by examination, but these were exceptional, and dealt with by the Assessment Panel.
In order to function effectively an office was necessary, and initially this was in Manchester Street, London. As the building was originally a house, rather than a purpose built office block, the accommodation was, by the sound of it, less than ideal. There was a room at the front of the house (a bedroom?), the landing and a bathroom (which was used as the filing room). The front room was the office of the General-Secretary, Anne Plumley, who was with the Association from 1968 until 1986. It was also used for Council meetings, with the addition of extra tables and chairs. Later, a long, narrow room at the back of the house was added to this palatial suite (!), and became home to Council and Committee meetings.
Unfortunately, the width of the room equalled the width of the table plus an occupied chair each side. If someone whose place was near the head of the table arrived late, therefore, a mass evacuation got under way.
During the 1970s, the increased size of the Association necessitated a move, and Tavistock House became home. Initially rooms were taken in the south wing, but were soon outgrown, so the move was made to quarters in the north wing. Tavistock House was felt to be appropriate, being next to the BMA and a prestige address. In 1993 the accommodation was again increased with the addition of an extra room. As our early association with the BMA through our formation and subsequent Presidents, it seemed appropriate to house our home here.
As we entered the 21st century, we found that our requirement for fully serviced offices was less needed and more functions were moved online. We still continue with our main office at the BMA, Tavistock House. Technology means that much of our work can now be done differently, but we maintain a significant library of past papers, examinations and student records at our Head Office.
In December 2000, after two years of hard (and expensive) work, AMSPAR passed the first part of the accreditation process for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority – the new regulatory body for qualifications to be entered into the National Qualifications Framework. This means that we were passed as suitable to be an awarding body in respect of our management, resources and quality assurance arrangements. All three Diploma qualifications completed the accreditation process – Advanced Diploma for Medical Secretaries and Intermediate Diploma in Medical Reception and Diploma in Primary Care Management. Our remaining qualifications completed our professional development programme. These included;
Certificate in Medical Terminology
General Practice Receptionist Programme
Hospital Receptionist Programme
Diploma in Primary Care Management (Level 5)
Advanced Diploma for Medical Secretaries (Level 3)
Intermediate Diploma in Medical Reception (Level 2)
Certificate in Continuing Professional Development
Advanced Certificate in Continuing Professional Development
Over the next few years, education was to change again, which resulted in significant costs being attributed to educational establishments and for the first time we started to see the term 'vocational qualification' being used. AMSPAR recognised that this is where our qualifications clearly sit and entered an agreement (in partnership) with City and Guilds to continue to offer our programmes as part of nationally accredited framework of qualifications under Ofqual.
Yes, it’s the bit about the AMSPAR annual conference, which was first held at the College of Further Education at Lytham St Anne’s in 1968. Since then the AMSPAR roadshow has travelled around the country, stopping off in Reading, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Brighton, Leicester, Ayr, Norwich, Canterbury and many other places, in an attempt to allow as many members as possible easy access to the once a year event of their professional body.
For 2001 we did something new and different; a one-day conference, rather than two, to keep the cost as low as possible and attract as many people as possible – including those who can’t get away for two days. The venue was Bristol, and it did indeed attract a higher number of attendees – including a high percentage who were attending for the first time.
In 2002 we went back to where our conferences began, Lytham St Anne’s. We did not hold a conference in 2003, but in 2004 we held a splendid champagne reception, dinner and learning event in London, to celebrate our 40th anniversary.
Since then AMSPAR has been involved with Management in Practice events, which means that every year we have attended national conferences (providing accredited event CPD), which were initally held in Manchester, London and Birmingham and then including Newcastle and Bristol. We are also invited to attend regional events each year.
Our 50th Anniversary was celebrated by council, members and staff in London and we now continue to have council meetings and more importantly, student open days on a regular basis throughout the year. We have created an on-line presence which allows students and members more access to AMSPAR.
AMSPAR has been fortunate in those eminent people of medicine who have been connected with it. The first president, from 1965 to 1968 was Sir Arthur Porritt, at one time a royal doctor. Lord Cohen of Birkenhead followed him from 1968 until 1977. Sir Cyril Clarke, who died in December 2000, was president from 1977 until 1992. From 1992 until 2004 our president was Professor Sir Michael Drury, Emeritus Professor of General Practice at the University of Birmingham and Vice President of Age Concern England. Since 2004 our president has been drawn from our membership and is currently under the safe stewardship of Mrya Upton, who previously served on council.
Since 1999 the Patron of AMSPAR has been Professor Lord Winston, Professor of Fertility Studies at Hammersmith Hospital, and the well-known presenter of a number of successful television series – Your life in their hands, The Human Body, The Secret life of twins and A child of our time. Less well known is Lord Winston’s interest in the theatre – he directed an award winning production of the Pirandello play “Each in his own Way” at the Edinburgh Festival in 1969. Lord Winston was winner of the Chief Rabbinate Prize for Contribution to Society for 1992-93.
We also have vice presidents, who previously included the Surgeon-General Vice-Admiral Ian Jenkins and Dr Vincent Leach. We are very fortunate that one of Admiral Jenkins’ predecessors, Air Marshal Sir John Baird, arranged for the vice presidency to go with the role of Surgeon General. Of course, many people (to which are referred our past and current membership) have played a vital part in the making of AMSPAR, more than can be mentioned in a short work such as this. Their contribution has been, and is, much valued.
© AMSPAR 2001 - 2022
Tavistock House South
London WC1H 9LN
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Phone: 020 7387 6005