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Prince’s foundation metamorphoses into new College of Medicine

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.c6126 (Published 29 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6126
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

A new entrant has shouldered its way into the crowded field of medical organisations. The College of Medicine has its origins in the Prince of Wales’s Foundation for Integrated Health, which closed in April this year, but its launch on Thursday 28 October was Hamlet without the prince.

The remit of the new college, which promises to put the “care” back into “healthcare,” is much broader than that of the prince’s foundation. Its president is Graeme Catto, former president of the General Medical Council, and its officers and advisory council include Ian Kennedy (an expert in health law and former chairman of the Healthcare Commission), Nigel Crisp (former chief executive of the NHS), Muir Gray (chief knowledge officer to the NHS), Cyril Chantler (former dean of Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ Medical and Dental Schools), and Ilora Finlay (past president of the Royal Society of Medicine).

Members of its governing council include Sam Everington, an east London general practitioner well known in BMA circles, and Mustafa Djamgoz, professor of cancer biology at Imperial College London, who also chairs the new college’s science council. Anybody tempted to dismiss the College of Medicine as no more than a front for alternative medicine will, therefore, have to face down some heavy hitters.

The college’s pitch is “cost, commitment, and caring.” Its aim, said Sir Graeme at a Westminster launch so crowded that an appeal had to be made for gentlemen, some quite elderly, to give up their seats to ladies, was to restore the patient to the centre of medicine and to represent not minority specialist interests but the whole of the healthcare team.

“Doctors are often appalled by the treatment they [patients] or their relatives get when they need it,” said Sir Graeme. “We all require humanity in our care when we are ill and vulnerable, and I hope the College of Medicine will make a real difference.”

He argued that modern medicine was unsustainable as well as uncaring. “We are concerned about the direction of modern medicine,” he said. How, he asked, was it possible for a series of healthcare scandals, from Bristol to Mid Staffordshire, to occur when entry standards to the profession had never been higher and when so many existing organisations, their fellows, and members were committed to delivering high quality care?

“Healthcare professionals have been completely ineffective in ensuring their patients are treated with dignity and compassion,” he concluded.

A vice president of the college, Harry Brünjes, who founded the Premier Medical Group, a provider of reporting and screening services, and sold it to the outsourcing company Capita for £60m (€70m; $95m) this summer, said that the driving force behind setting up the organisation had been Michael Dixon. A Devon general practitioner who is also chairman of the NHS Alliance, which represents NHS primary care professionals, Dr Dixon was the medical director of the prince’s foundation.

Dr Dixon said that with the launch of the college “the professional landscape in medicine will never be the same again.” Its purpose was to “triangulate science with clinical opinion and patient need.” A patient with back pain who sought the advice of his GP today would be offered painkillers or surgery, he said. The college would seek to make a broader mix of treatment options available to patients, including self care and “non-technological solutions.”

He ended his speech with advice from a consultant, given to him as a junior doctor: “Whenever you can’t make a diagnosis and you don’t know what the treatment is, just be kind.” Kindness and caring, he implied, had been squeezed to the margins of modern healthcare.

The college, which will be based in central London near Charing Cross station, has put its principles into action by focusing as one of its first actions on the health of homeless people. Other priorities include self care, women’s health, and, in 2011, neuromusculoskeletal care. Two of the six strong faculty members for this specialty are from the British Chiropractic Association, which sued the author Simon Singh for libel for his disobliging remarks about the evidence base for their interventions. (The suit has since been dropped (BMJ 2010;340:c2086, doi:10.1136/bmj.c2086).)

The college aims to be self financing and is seeking applicants for several categories of membership. These include patients, who are eligible to join a patients’ panel.

A well produced brochure advertises the college’s aims and principles but is coy about its links to alternative and complementary medicine. Prince Charles wasn’t mentioned at the launch. The impression left was of a determined effort to “soft pedal” those aspects of the college most likely to provoke criticism, although its links to the prince’s foundation are undeniable. Linda Leung, company secretary, was, for example, operations director of the foundation.

The desire to create some distance is understandable, given that the foundation collapsed after it was discovered that its finance director, George Gray, had stolen £253 000 from the accounts. He pleaded guilty to two charges of fraud and was jailed for three years in August.

Some doubters were at the launch, among them John Walton, a former president of the BMA and the GMC and a veteran of every variety of medical organisation over the past half century.

“I’m here as a sceptic, and I’ve just told my former houseman that,” he said. The target of the remark was Donald Irvine, another former GMC president and a member of the new college’s advisory council. As he left, Lord Walton remarked in a stage whisper: “Wasn’t this what the College of Health promised to do?”

It proved impossible to check this because the College of Health, an organisation set up in the 1980s by Michael Young, founder of the Consumers Association (now Which?), no longer appears to exist, and its website address is up for sale.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c6126