Dr Charlotte Jones: A primary care trailblazer

Dr Charlotte Jones became the youngest-ever chair of GPC Wales last month and the first woman in the post. Marina Soteriou asks her about her priorities as she takes office.

Dr Charlotte Jones, GPC Wales chair
Dr Charlotte Jones, GPC Wales chair

Swansea GP Dr Charlotte Jones was uncontested in her bid to achieve a remarkable double first - to become the youngest-ever and first female chair of GPC Wales.

The fact no one stood against her as she sought to step up from her previous role as deputy chairwoman is testament to her popularity with the 'extremely close-knit' GPC team in Wales.

Chairing the annual Welsh LMCs conference for the past two years helped develop the bond. 'We get on very well and long may that last,' says the 41-year-old.

Dr Jones feels 'honoured and privileged' to have the chance to lead GPC Wales. 'I want to get it right,' she says. 'I am keen to hear the viewpoints of GPs in Wales.'

She runs a tight ship at the Welsh LMCs conference, not shy of telling representatives off when they overrun - albeit with a smile.

She admits that current GPC Wales chairman Dr David Bailey will be a 'hard act' to follow after his six-year stint ends on 26 July.

'David has been an excellent mentor and has been really good to me,' she says.

She is 'champing at the bit' to get started on negotiations over GMS contract reforms, but is under no illusions about how tough her three-year appointment is likely to be.

Priorities

Her top priority for Wales will be to ensure that there is a sustainable workforce.

'We have a lot of over-55s in hard-to-recruit areas, in the rural and valley areas,' she says.

General practice should be easier and quicker for returners to come back to. It also needs to be more attractive and flexible for medical trainees, she adds.

Dr Jones wants to see bursaries awarded to practices in hard-to-recruit areas, so GPs can divide their time between clinical and research roles.

She also hopes to get health boards to approve a jobshare scheme for GPs. If practices can only afford to hire a GP part-time, the health board can employ them for the remaining time, for out-of-hours or A&E shifts.

Negotiation

Dr Jones admits UK-level negotiations on the GP contract will be much tougher than any she has conducted with the Welsh government.

'I am keen to get it right and keen to learn from my peers,' she says.

In stark contrast with fractious discussions between the BMA and the UK government, GPC Wales' relationship with the Welsh administration is 'very good', she says. Wales, in common with Scotland and Northern Ireland, negotiated a contract deal for 2013/14 that put plans to scrap MPIG on hold - a reform that shows no sign of being dropped in England.

'They do listen to us,' she says. 'It does feel like a true negotiation and there is a want on both sides to do the best by the NHS in Wales, unlike in England.'

How would she describe her negotiating style? 'My style would be firm but fair, always willing to listen, but not a pushover. I like to use the art of persuasion and detail in arguments.'

MPIG will be a hot topic in negotiations with the Welsh government again this year. She will be trying to shelve abolition plans for another year, 'or longer' if she gets her way.

Gender

Dr Jones' appointment last month means the UK GPC will have at least one female negotiator over the next three years, because chairs from the Celtic countries join the UK negotiating team.

For the past year, the UK GPC has resembled a 'gentlemen's club' according to some female GPs, with its sole female negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash voted off last year.

Dr Jones says she has never felt gender to be an issue in any of her appointments.

'I am delighted to be the first female chair but I have always felt that I have been appointed to roles based on my qualities and merits.'

There should be no barriers to people standing in elections, but she does not advocate positive discrimination. 'I am not in favour of token people,' she says. 'It has to be the right person.' However, mentoring women interested in medico-politics could help, she argues.

For women whose first bids for election are unsuccessful, 'there should be some system whereby we can keep their interest going while other opportunities are explored', says Dr Jones.

Out of hours

Despite her challenging new role, GPC Wales' new chairwoman still cannot be persuaded to give up out-of-hours work.

'I really love out-of-hours work,' she says. 'It is nice to see other patients. You never know who is going to ring.'

The mother of two also enjoys a challenge at home. Her vascular surgeon husband works away all week, in Oldham.

With a son aged 15 and a daughter aged 13, she says: 'I feel I have learnt most of my negotiating skills from negotiating with teenagers.'

Dr Jones feels lucky to have a strong family around her. 'When I finish work I can go home and be a mum,' she says.

With challenging times ahead for general practice, her multitasking and negotiating skills should serve her well.

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