Professor Pringle has led something of a charmed life in general practice and admits to having enjoyed a ‘very privileged career’.
But as he prepares to become the next president of the RCGP in November, he reflects that Professor Iona Heath might not be the easiest act to follow.
‘Iona has been so good at expressing the intellectual values of general practice and I cannot replicate that. But I will try to continue her leadership by emphasising the philosophical side of general practice and generalism within the healthcare system,’ he says.
He also expects ‘stormy weather’ ahead for the profession and is planning to closely monitor the impact of the NHS reforms and funding restrictions on GPs and their patients.
Having been inspired as a child by his village GP, Professor Pringle’s first job in general practice was alongside Dr John Hasler, who was then honorary secretary of the college, at the Sonning Common Practice in rural Oxfordshire.
His trainer was Dr Tom Stewart, who was ‘exactly the sort of role model that someone like myself would yearn for’, he says. ‘And I was completely converted at that point to the virtues of generalism and general practice.’
Ten years later he became a senior lecturer at the University of Nottingham and subsequently professor of general practice: ‘I had all the benefits of being a GP and the virtues of that, as well as the challenges of academia, in research and teaching, and became involved in the local faculty.’
But he is not, as he puts it, ‘starry eyed’ about general practice: ‘If you look at the pros and cons, for some people it can be a superb career choice and the good days are really notable.
‘And when I talk to hospital doctors, they are far more put upon and dispirited than GPs as a whole, with all of the bureaucracy, management and oversight that they have to take on board.’
Professor Pringle has now retired from the NHS to focus on the presidency and his numerous outside interests and has stepped down as the college’s lead on revalidation, with the scheme now due to start by December.
‘I came to the recognition some time back that unless we put in something that protects the public from poorly performing doctors, we will have continuing erosion of the public’s trust in the profession.
‘Most doctors will recognise that once they have done the annual appraisal, that’s the core work of revalidation and it should be straightforward.’
He sees his core role as president being to represent the values of the RCGP and general practice: ‘We have to make sure that people value and respect what we do, because general practice is the cornerstone of the NHS and medicine as a whole.’
At the same time, he will be ‘listening carefully’ to members and non-members to reflect their views back to the college, particularly those of minority groups in general practice. But he is clearly expecting problems for all GPs.
‘I will be working very closely with other officers of the college to articulate our concerns if we feel patients and GPs are not being supported in the health service in providing the care they need and wish to provide.
‘We already see that rationing of healthcare is becoming more evident. The need for more staff is growing, yet we can only see stormy weather ahead, with the financial restraints we face and patient expectations, quite rightly, rising.’ Professor Pringle is also planning to keep a close eye on the new clinical commissioning system.
‘If clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) want to make sure they deliver the best of healthcare, they have to make sure that GPs are not isolated, that locums are part of the system and returners are welcomed back and integrated.
‘The quality of the patient experience is not just about what CCGs have bought from secondary care, it’s about how the whole system operates. They are local bodies and they have real potential to draw together the entirety of the medical system. But that’s a big ask and we at the college want to know whether they are capable of doing that.
‘So we will want to hear about the experiences of GPs, whether they are being involved and whether they feel their colleagues are working in a co-ordinated way.’
The international footprint of the RCGP is also high on Professor Pringle’s agenda, with well-established operations in the Middle East to maintain and new developments across India and China to support.
‘It’s very important that the president should be representing the college’s interests internationally,’ he says. ‘We are seen as giving leadership to many other countries, helping to deliver examinations and quality in medicine.’
All in all, it’s going to be a very busy three years for Professor Pringle.
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