The union was founded as the Panel Medical Practitioners'Union in 1914, was then renamed the Medico Political Union and was renamed the Medical Practitioners' Union in 1922. It amalgamated with the Association of Scientific, Technical and Managerial Staffs in 1970 under the leadership of Hugh Faulkner. It remained a distinct section through a series of mergers which formed Manufacturing, Science and Finance, Amicus and ultimately Unite.
The union published Medical World. This originated in 1913 as the official journal of the State Medical Service Association, but was adopted as the official union journal the following year. The union initially opposed the British Medical Association which until 1974 refused to be a trade union and described trade unionism in medicine as unethical. The MPU's aims from the outset were to extend the provision of medical care by the state, while retaining the independence of general practitioners.
The union was the only trade union in medicine until 1974 . However in 1974 the BMA became a trade union as did the HCSA. The MPU was the only TUC affiliated medical trade union until 1979 when the HCSA also affiliated and it was the only TUC affiliated trade union party to the medical negotiating machinery until 2016 when the HCSA also gained recognition. It is committed to restoring the NHS as a publicly-owned, publicly-provided, service which is democratically controlled, planned to meet need and serves as the means by which society pursues health as a social goal.
When the medical negotiating machinery was set up in 1948 the BMA, because of its opposition to trade unionism, sought to exclude the MPU. Following a campaign by the union, an agreement was reached between the BMA and the MPU in December 1950 whereby the BMA agreed to maintain a universal franchise machinery open to all doctors including MPU members and to give the MPU direct seats on the committee representing general practitioners. In return the MPU withdrew its request for direct seats on the Doctors and Dentists Whitley Council. That agreement remains in force to this day and now represents the means by which UNITE accesses the negotiating machinery for doctors and hospital dentists in the NHS. The agreement also applied to local government from 1950-74 when the NHS negotiating machinery extended to health workers in local government but, as that is no longer the case, the agreement does not now apply to local government where UNITE is the only recognised medical trade union.
Because the BMA is not affiliated to the TUC and the only other TUC-affiliated trade union in medicine, the HCSA, acts as a rival to the negotiating machinery which the BMA and MPU share, a significant number of BMA members who wish to be affiliated to the TUC maintain a dual membership with the MPU.
In a document published in its centenary year, entitled “Caring for Doctors, Fighting for the NHS -Fighting for doctors, for health and for the people for over 100 years” the MPU defined itself as • the campaigning medical union • a progressive voice in the BMA • supporting grass roots voices in medicine • the medical organisation for the people • the medical policy think tank for health as a social goal • the medical organisation for equality and diversity • the organisation for doctors as health workers • the only TUC-affiliated union formally party to the BMA representative machinery