The editor of the BMJ, Dr Richard Smith, is to leave the journal after 25 years to become the chief executive of a new European arm of a US healthcare company.
UnitedHealth Group is the largest healthcare company in the United States—with revenue last year of $28.8bn (£16.1bn;€24bn).
Commenting on his decisions to leave the BMJ, Dr Smith said in an email to staff: “I've spent long hours considering the many pluses and minuses of leaving, but ultimately I have two reasons for going. Firstly, it must be a good thing to be ‘repotted’: 25 years in one place, albeit a very agreeable one, is a long time, probably too long.
“Secondly, I'm lucky at 52 to be presented with a new challenge. The new company, although part of a huge one, will in effect be a ‘start up,’ with all the excitement and uncertainty that implies. I hope that we can do great things for the NHS and other health services in Europe—but we will have to constantly learn, innovate, and explore.”
The new European company, which will be based in London, is already working with 10 primary care trusts in England. The pilot programme is testing the Evercare scheme, which aims to keep frail, elderly people out of hospital by providing the support and care they need in their own homes.
In the United States, the scheme has cut hospital admissions among this population by 50%. It has also proved popular with patients and carers, who say they are more satisfied with the care provided.
Dr Smith, who has been editor of the BMJ and chief executive of the BMJ Publishing Group for 13 years, will join Simon Stevens, currently Prime Minister Tony Blair's health adviser, who will be the company's president (see below).
Although his exact leaving date has not been set yet, Dr Smith hopes to take up his new post at the end of the summer.
On learning of Dr Smith's departure, Jeremy Strachan, secretary of the BMA, said: “Richard has been an outstanding editor and leader of the BMJ, extending its influence and reputation worldwide to create a global brand. If he has irritated the few with his liberal establishment posturings, he has gratified the many by his willingness to pick up and run with some of the big health and policy issues of the day. He has also succeeded in creating a flourishing business for the BMA for which its members have cause to be grateful.” (See Editor's choice.)