Intended for healthcare professionals


Donald Irvine: the only GP to date to become president of the General Medical Council

BMJ 2018; 363 doi: (Published 14 December 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k5303
  1. Rebecca Wallersteiner
  1. London, UK
  1. wallersteiner{at}

Nick Sinclair’s 1996 portrait of Donald Irvine was given by TheBMJ to the National Portrait Gallery

Credit: Nick Sinclair

Born in 1935 in Ashington, Northumberland, in a coal mining community where his father was a family doctor, the studious young Donald Irvine was educated at King Edward VI Grammar School in Morpeth. His father’s surgery was part of the house, and medicine was discussed every day. He recalled in his memoir, Medical Professionalism and the Public Interest,1 that, “In those days there was a common assumption in medical families that son would follow father.” From childhood he helped unpack drugs that were delivered to the house in large glass containers. He and his sister, who also became a doctor, would often visit patients with their father.

Irvine remembered travelling to and from primary school in the early 1940s with miners on the bus still covered in coal dust. There were no supermarkets, no laundries, few telephones, no television, nor many of the things we take for granted today. At the age of 10, Irvine developed rheumatic fever and spent nearly a year in hospital. He always remembered the excellent care he received from …

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