Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard: Securing the RCGP's financial future

Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard told Neil Durham about the highs and lows of the first 18 months of her role.

'It's been remarkable - exhilarating, frustrating, fun and exhausting.' Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard is reflecting on her first year and a half in post as the RCGP's first female treasurer, and only the seventh in its 60-year history.

GP asks her for more detail and she casts her mind back to 22 January 2014. She pulls out the new notebook she bought for private, multi-million pound negotiations with the chief executive of the construction firm refurbishing the RCGP's new headquarters in Euston, central London.

The meeting took place over a year after RCGP staff moved into the building, as ill feeling over unfinished work risked fuelling legal action.

Disputes with the construction firm coincided with a legal threat by the British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin, which was eventually lost at the High Court in April this year, over alleged discrimination in MRCGP assessments.

'The problem with the builders came at the same time as the CSA legal challenge. Had the two things combined gone in a worse direction it could have been financially seismic for the RCGP. We would never have been bankrupt or had to sell up, but it would have been financially very troubling,' Dr Stokes-Lampard remembers.

Details of the settlement with building contractors over 30 Euston Square are confidential, but the RCGP treasurer ensured work was completed within its £38m refurbishment budget.

Emerging from talks over building work, the scale of what she had just achieved in that three-hour meeting back in January initially rendered her speechless. 'I walked out of the meeting and couldn't talk for 20 minutes. As anyone who knows me will attest, that's not normal for me.'

Was it daunting? 'If I'd let myself stop and think too hard about the responsibility I was taking on, I never would've done it.'

   The best bit about my role has been moving it
into a new building and seeing all the snags and
problems fixed  

It is the emotional intelligence and empathy developed during her years as a GP rather than her numeracy skills that she credits for her success as treasurer. 'I learned to add up when I was five years old. The numbers are the easy bit,' she says.

As GP went to press the final work on the RCGP's new £34m headquarters was due to be completed. The need to consolidate the RCGP's disparate London operations on one site led to its relocation and also initial fears, now allayed, that it could be threatened by the potential HS2 development of Euston. 'Should HS2 happen, there is bound to be some disruption but our already very convenient location will become even more so.

'The move was a once-in-a-lifetime thing for the college. It was both an exciting thing and a privilege to be part of.

'The best bit about my role has been moving into this building and seeing all the snags and problems fixed.'

Providing the fingers guarding the RCGP's purse strings has not been without heartache. During an 18-month efficiency drive at the beginning of Dr Stokes-Lampard's tenure there were redundancies generating £500,000 in salary savings.

Tightening the RCGP's travel policy has also cut costs. Elsewhere a personal highlight was the 60 for 60 campaign to mark the RCGP's 60th year by raising £60,000 to send doctors to Sierra Leone, in West Africa - a fundraising target that was surpassed.

When Dr Stokes-Lampard talks about the profession it's obvious that it's something she believes passionately in. 'General practice is and always will be an amazing job for a long time to come.'

One of the things she most enjoys about her role is taking part in the uplifting new member ceremonies that welcome people to the RCGP.

Dr Stokes-Lampard divides her time between the RCGP, working two-and-a-half days a week as a senior lecturer at Birmingham Medical School and a day as a partner in Lichfield, Staffordshire. 'It's vital that I continue to see patients as it puts everything else into context and keeps me in touch with day to day problems.'

It is this experience at the general practice coalface that she has used to inform media appearances to argue the case for the RCGP's Put Patients First campaign.

The campaign calls for a greater proportion of NHS funding for primary care. Isn't that a difficult case to make to a media which thinks doctors are paid too much?

'I worked a 13-and-a-half hour day yesterday to give my patients the care that they need. We're not asking for doctors to be paid more. This is about improving resourcing to provide more staff, both doctors and nurses. We are asking for GPs to be able to spend more time with their patients.'

This comment seems to encapsulate the enthusiasm, knowledge and passion Dr Stokes-Lampard has brought to her role as treasurer - key reasons why she is making a success of it.

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