Obituaries

Sir Anthony Grabham

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h502 (Published 23 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h502
  1. Richard Smith, London
  1. richardswsmith{at}yahoo.co.uk

Surgeon and influential medical politician

Keith Breeden

The climax of the career of Sir Anthony Grabham, the most accomplished medical politician of his generation, came in a meeting with the prime minister, Harold Wilson, in 1975. Barbara Castle, who was secretary of state for health, was proposing to phase out private practice from NHS hospitals and change the consultant contract to favour full timers over part timers. Consultants opposed this strongly as they felt it betrayed the contract they’d agreed with Aneurin Bevan at the start of the NHS.

At the time Grabham was the chair of the Central Committee for Hospital Medical Services (CCHMS, the “consultants’ committee” of the BMA), and he put together a “grand alliance” of the BMA, the royal colleges, BUPA, and a member of the Hospital Consultants Association (HCA), a body that then threatened the BMA’s pre-eminence in representing consultants. For £20 000 (about £90 000 now) the alliance hired Lord Goodman, a friend of Wilson and the fixer of his day. He arranged a meeting of the group with Wilson and with a single phone call ensured an editorial supporting the consultants in a leading newspaper.

Goodman’s advice was that only Grabham speak in the meeting despite him being the most junior. Grabham expected Wilson to be a “rough diamond,” but he was dressed smartly and smoking a big cigar when the doctors arrived. Surrounded by older and grander men, including the presidents of the royal colleges, Grabham put the consultants’ case in what we can be sure was his clear, precise, polite, but firm manner. Wilson asked the then president of the Royal College of Surgeons what he thought, but, following Goodman’s advice, the president said that only Grabham would answer for the profession.

The meeting was a success in that a compromise was found …

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