Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations BMJ Confidential

Clare Gerada: Best move was “getting into drugs”

BMJ 2013; 347 doi: (Published 16 October 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6192

For its new series, BMJ Confidential, the BMJ asked some of the movers and shakers of the medical world about their work, life, and less serious matters. Its first subject: the outgoing chairwoman of the Royal College of General Practitioners


Clare Gerada is a GP in south London and chairwoman of the council of the Royal College of General Practitioners. A vocal defender of the NHS, she sprang to prominence as a leading voice in the opposition to the coalition government’s reorganisation of the NHS in England. She was named in February 2013 by BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme as one of the most powerful 100 women in the UK.

She is a Twitter addict. Sample tweet: “Psychiatrists should undertake at last six months’ training in primary care­—or marry a GP.” She is married to Simon Wessely, a prominent psychiatrist.

What was your earliest ambition?

To be a doctor—just like my father.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

My father. He was a singlehanded GP who started off with a practice in the front room of our house. He inspired me and taught me that to be a good GP you had to be part of your local community and to listen to patients.

What was the worst mistake in your career?

When working at the Department of Health I took away a large file to work on at home as part of a major inquiry. I lost the file. I thought it had fallen off my bike and searched and re-searched the whole route but couldn’t find it. I thought my career was over.

It was under the bed.

What was your best career move?

Getting into drugs. Actually spending time specialising in substance misuse during my psychiatric training, then taking this interest with me into general practice and becoming a big fish in a small sea.

Bevan or Lansley? Who’s been the best and the worst health secretary in your lifetime?

The worst was Ken Clarke. He was arrogant, didn’t understand GPs, and brought in the beginning of the purchaser-provider split and a marketised health service. The best was Stephen Dorrell. He was intelligent, in command of his brief, always polite, committed, and listened.

Who is the person you would most like to thank and why?

My GP partners and past partners, David, Frances, Mark, Cynthia, Arvind, and Murray, for giving me the time and space and support to forge a career within general practice.

To whom would you most like to apologise?

Again my partners, for being away for so long.

If you were given £1m, what would you spend it on?

Some to my partners to spend on a good night out for putting up with me over the past 20 years. Most to my college, the RCGP, to help develop the next generation of general practitioners.

Where are or were you happiest?

The day I went to see my name on the MBBS finals list outside the canteen at University College Hospital. I rang my father and said, “Hello Dad, this is Dr Gerada.”

What single unheralded change has made the most difference in your field in your lifetime?

The computer. As with all general practices we have been fully computerised and paperless for nearly two decades. I couldn’t imagine going back to paper records.

Do you believe in doctor assisted suicide?

The RCGP is consulting on this issue: about whether we should have a neutral stance and let politicians decide on our behalf. My view is private and should not trump anyone else’s.

What book should every doctor read?

Intelligent Kindness by John Ballatt and Penelope Campling.

What poem, song, or passage of prose would you like mourners at your funeral to hear?

Anything by the US singer Eva Cassidy. I first heard her played on the Terry Wogan show, which I would listen to on the way back from dropping my children at school. An amazing lady and a sad loss to music.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Watching Come Dine With Me with a glass of white wine and spaghetti omelette (cooked spaghetti drained and rinsed in cold water, mixed with two beaten eggs, salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese, and fried in olive oil for three minutes on each side).

If you could be invisible for a day, what would you do?

I often dreamt of being invisible, and when I was a child I wanted to see what happened in the school staff room. Now I would watch the prime minister for a day—back and front stage.

Clarkson or Clark? Would you rather watch Top Gear or Civilisation?

Neither. Though I did once do a programme on alcohol with Top Gear’s Richard Hammond. We interviewed people drinking in a pub about whether they knew how much they were drinking. They didn’t, and nor did he. But he was a charming man.

Your most treasured possession?

Need you ask? My Jack Russell, Lucy.

What personal ambition do you still have?

To run the NHS.

Summarise your personality in three words

Energetic, passionate, @Clarercgp.

Where does alcohol fit into your life?

As with many of my generation, as a constant pleasure that needs to be watched to avoid overconsumption.

What is your pet hate?

So called “experts” (consultants, think tanks, advisers) who purport to know best, on the basis of theories that were never based on or tested in reality. Once described to me as seagulls: they fly overhead, crap on those below, and fly off.

What would be on the menu for your last supper?

Pork scratchings (if I still had teeth), Bird’s instant custard with bananas and hundreds and thousands on top, and Thai green curry. In that order.

Do you have any regrets about becoming a doctor or politician?

No, none. My only regret is that the majority of my career is now behind me.

If you weren’t a doctor what would you be doing instead?

I am training in group analysis and would love to take that forward into the future as part of the service I offer to sick doctors (


Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f6192

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