Professor Maureen Baker: A three-year rollercoaster ride as chair of the RCGP

As she steps down, RCGP chair Professor Maureen Baker reflects on her three years at the helm of the college.

It's hard to believe that it's three years since I became chair of the RCGP. In many ways chairing my first council meeting - the first role of any new chair - seems like yesterday, but at the same time, so many things have happened, and so much has changed at the college, in general practice and for the wider NHS.

Whilst I am, of course, sad that my time at the helm is coming to an end, I’m immensely proud and honoured to have led the college over the past few years, and ensured that we have provided a voice at the highest levels for hard working GPs right across the UK, in these challenging times for our profession. 

My tenure has been one of high and lows, though mostly highs, and what we’ve achieved for general practice and patient care over the last three years, by working together, should be a great source of satisfaction for the college’s 50,000 members - and indeed all GPs across the country.

GP Forward View

Undoubtedly, the highlight for me – due in no small part to the calls of the college’s 'Put patients first: Back general practice' campaign - was the announcement of NHS England’s General Practice Forward View in April. I said at the time that it was the most significant announcement for general practice since the 1960s, and I still believe it.

The pledges within the document promise to significantly boost both funding for our profession and GP and practice team numbers in England. If delivered effectively, the GP Forward View will ensure a bright future for our profession.

From day one the college has taken a leading role in making sure it is implemented in the best interests of general practice, and our patients. I know that this important work won’t stop with my stepping down and have the utmost confidence in my successor, Dr Helen Stokes-Lampard, to take this forward.

Strides to secure our profession have not been limited to England. Put patients first is a UK-wide campaign, and I was delighted to hear Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s recent pledge to deliver £500m into ‘GP practices and health centres’ by 2020/21. We will continue to push for similar recognition and equivalent promises of investment in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Importance of general practice

The success of 'Put patients first' is clear recognition of the importance of our profession, and how valued general practice is in terms of keeping the health service sustainable and our patients safe.

But there is an imbalance in the force, and something that I’ve consistently encountered – not just over the last three years, but in my own research spanning 20 years - is the unacceptable and somewhat bizarre denigration of general practice in medicine.

I’ve been vocal about this – about how absurd it is when you think we deal with 90% of all NHS patient contacts - during my time as chair. Most recently I wrote an editorial in the British Journal of General Practice, along with my esteemed colleague Professor Sir Simon Wessely, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, highlighting the prevailing hierarchy that exists in medical schools – that puts physical health over mental health, hospital care over community care, specialism over generalism and 'medical' specialties over ‘non-medical’ ones. It is damaging and must be challenged.

Evidence shows that denigration of general practice puts medical students off becoming GPs and it isn’t helped by popular TV shows such as Casualty and 24-hours in A&E perpetuating the myth that our profession is somehow run-of-the-mill and less exciting than hospital-based specialties.

To tackle this, we have launched our Think GP campaign – another personal highlight of my chairmanship – with a series of videos and a guide promoting general practice as the stimulating and rewarding profession that it is.

I was delighted with the positive reception we’ve had so far – the videos have racked up over 40,000 views – and we’re hopeful that the materials we have produced will make medical students seriously consider a career in general practice. Round 1 of GP recruitment is open now, so it is the time to share our Think GP resources with whoever you can, and get the message out far and wide!

Honour and privilege

It’s been a rollercoaster ride as chair of the RCGP – as a huge lover of high thrill rides, something I was braced for - but I hope I’ve made a lasting impression, and helped steady the ship for general practice for the future. And now it’s over to Helen to rise to the challenge and turn this inspiring potential into reality.

It’s been an honour and privilege to serve as chair of the RCGP and I’d like to extend my warmest gratitude for all the support and encouragement I’ve received during this time.

  • Dr Baker is chair of the RCGP

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