GMC must be 'quicker and slicker'

Departing GMC president Professor Sir Graeme Catto on the past seven years. Tom Ireland reports.

Professor Sir Graeme Catto
Professor Sir Graeme Catto

'I won't be remembered at all,' says Professor Sir Graeme Catto, reflecting on more than seven years as president of the GMC.

Under the changes he brought about, he could be remembered as one of the last doctors to hold the post, however.

The fact that Sir Graeme's successor could be the first lay president in the GMC's history has been controversial - but the move will make no practical difference to the GMC, he says.

'It has never, ever come to a discussion or a vote where the lay members vote A, and the doctors vote B.'

The move to an equal split of lay and medical members, and even a lay president, will ensure there can be no accusations of vested interests at the GMC, he says.

'The Jeremy Paxman-type argument, "you would say that wouldn't you", can be quite strong. But if a lay person with no axe to grind says the same thing, it actually gives us greater credence.'

Sir Graeme was elected to president of the GMC in late 2001 after Sir Donald Irvine stepped down six months early. The GMC stood accused of failing to protect the public following a series of high-profile cases including that of Harold Shipman.

The GMC president believes he did not become the controversial president that he was expected to be.

'The time was controversial, but the GMC has emerged stronger,' he says.

'Revalidation is no longer controversial, and is one of a number of GMC policies that at first provoked an unnecessarily negative reaction from doctors, especially GPs.

'Like the changes to the fitness-to-practise rules. There was a bit of an outcry about that and the sky doesn't seem to have fallen in.

'It's about doctors, colleagues, taking a calm approach and opposing things that need to be opposed, and accepting things that have a certain inevitability.'

GMC is rarely wrong
Sir Graeme refutes claims that fitness-to-practise panels have become heavy handed in recent years. He admits it is difficult when the GMC has a duty to protect the public, but says the GMC is 'rarely wrong.'

'We must always err on the side of the public, and not necessarily protect the doctors.

'The real problem is that the cases are hugely expensive to mount. There is a huge imposition on everybody.'

If GPs are unhappy with the culture of regulation, he warns, they have to become involved and help to shape it.

Doctors have succeeded in creating a more professional culture among themselves, however, he says. 'Too often doctors turned a blind eye to problems to do with colleagues say, drinking, and I think that has changed enormously.

'Before the 1990s there was feeling that all of this was the GMC's responsibility. Now, we should be the last port of call.'

The GMC of the future needs to be 'quicker and slicker,' says Sir Graeme.

'When you look at what is possible electronically, I am not convinced we do enough.

'We are still inclined to send people huge amounts of paper and ask for their views on them.'

The implementation of revalidation will be 'a huge challenge,' he predicts, and wishes he had progressed further with it during his presidency.

Beyond his role at the GMC, Sir Graeme will return to his work with the Scottish Stem Cell Network and in renal medicine, and takes an interest in the way health policy is developing in each different country of the UK.

In his opinion he believes that the UK has been 'truly duff' at tackling social health problems like obesity.

He will clearly miss his high-profile role. He speaks fondly of people approaching him on the Tube and offering their thoughts but he plans to sever all links with the GMC immediately.

'I have loved every minute of it. Whatever damage I have done to the GMC and maybe the health service will be in the past,' he says with a smile.

Sir Graeme Catto

Sir Graeme is professor of medicine at University of Aberdeen.

After graduating in medicine, he obtained a fellowship to study at Harvard University. He is an honorary physician with an interest in renal medicine and has published widely on different aspects of nephrology and immunology.

Married to a lawyer, he has two children, three grandchildren and two English setters. He enjoys spending time in the hills and glens of Scotland.

Source: Aberdeen University.

tom.ireland@haymarket.com

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