GP elected as GMC president

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 03 June 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1427

Sir Donald Irvine, a general practitioner from Northumberland, was last week elected president of the General Medical Council. The first general practitioner ever to be president, Sir Donald will take up his post at the beginning of September.

“I believe,” said Sir Donald last week, “that the GMC should be outward looking and responsive to the needs of the public. It shouldn't be seen just as a punitive body that does or doesn't work depending on your point of view.”

Sir Donald has picked out five areas for development: professional standards, performance, the preregistration year, the workings of the GMC, and its wider relationships. The council last week approved Good Medical Practice, a statement of the ethical principles and basic standards of medical practice. As a member of the council's standards committee since 1979 (and chairman since 1984), Sir Donald has taken the lead in drawing up this document. He hopes that with the new document the council will “touch the hearts and engage the minds of the profession so that doctors and medical students feel a sense of ownership and commitment which is reflected in their everyday work.”

Developing mechanisms to deal with doctors who perform poorly has been the major achievement of Sir Robert Kilpatrick, the current president of the council, and a bill to enact the procedures is now before parliament (see p 1430). “We must now,” says Sir Donald, “develop assessment methods that are acceptable to the profession; establish a panel of well trained assessors who have both sensitivity and understanding; and make strenuous efforts to see that remedial training is supported by the NHS, and given with care.” It will be 18 months to two years before the machinery becomes operational.

“The preregistration year,” said Sir Donald, “is the one part of postgraduate practice that is under the direct control of the GMC—with the universities. And the pressures of service have progressively squeezed out the educational nature of the year. The year needs urgent revision. We must ask the universities to take full charge and bring them together with the NHS to reconcile the competing demands of education and service. We should seek to make this year of preparation for full registration an example of best practice in postgraduate training.” Sir Donald believes that his long experience of training for general practice will help achieve this aim within three years.

Sir Donald's aim for the workings of the GMC is to establish it “as a model of excellence among regulating bodies. Our procedures are often seen by the outside world as bureaucratic, remote, and unresponsive. We need to develop further our capacity to think strategically, to anticipate rather than be taken by surprise. We need to listen to those we serve, and to publish the results of our work in ways that give the profession and the public a clear account of our activities and our effectiveness.”

The GMC, he said, needs a fresh approach to external relations, to present itself as well as it possibly can. “We need to establish good networks, make full use of the media, and encourage others to be our champions. Self regulation is the keystone of our professionalism and depends on trust. Members of the public and doctors have to feel that they can trust the GMC to do its job well on their behalf. I aim to establish that trust.”—RICHARD SMITH, BMJ

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