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At the heart of general practice since 1960

GPs to join NHS fraudbusters on visits to protect confidentiality

As Dr Mayur Lakhani prepares to take the reins at the RCGP, he aims to focus its role and woo back grassroots GPs ­ Ian Cameron hears his plans

While on a recent holiday in New York, Dr Mayur Lakhani queued for an hour to meet Pamela Anderson and get a signed copy of her salacious novel-cum-autobiography,

Star.

'I thought the queue was for Bill Clinton,' Dr Lakhani initally claims.

He then concedes that even after realising his mistake, he stayed in line and received a personal message from the former Baywatch babe ­ one he declines to disclose.

This is not an image one would associate with the chair of the austere RCGP ­ even of its youngest ever chair, which, at 44, Dr Lakhani will be when he takes over later this month. But that could be no bad thing.

Dr Lakhani admits the college is seen by some as a 'gentlemen's club in Knightsbridge'. He says he wants to transform this image.

This means making the college into an accessible, relevant body with close links to grassroots GPs and extending its influence over policy makers. 'I want the college to have a much stronger leadership role and to increase our influence in the GP community. People must be clear what we stand for.'

Yet this has long been the college's big problem, one it admitted in a strategy document earlier this year. GPs, of whom only around half are members, don't know what it is for.

Dr Lakhani believes it's simple to describe what the college is, and is not.

What it is is an organisation dedicated to GP training. What it is not is a trade union.

'It's about how to train good GPs and ensure they are up to scratch,' he says. 'We are not interested in terms and conditions.'

Dr Lakhani contends that these principles, which date from the college's founding in 1952 when GPs were seen as second-rate doctors, have been lost amid perpetual NHS reforms and prolonged contract wranglings.

To reaffirm them in GPs' minds, he says the RCGP now has to become 'a professional cradle' for them, which they can contact at any point in their career for personal, professional or career guidance.

It must also be a 'business-focused mean machine'.

He says: 'I'm not afraid to make hard decisions, you've got to be tough. We've got to become a business-focused mean machine. That might mean stopping some things.'

Frustratingly, given his tough talking, Dr Lakhani then refuses to say what these things are, beyond the odd conference.

He is more open, though, when discussing a further aim for the college. For it to become the authority on clinical issues and the first place GPs, civil servants and ministers turn to for information and opinion.

This role, Dr Lakhani states, has been split across too many organisations, including the BMA. He believes the association will be happy to see a resurgent RCGP which is also more ready to go into battle with ministers on behalf of GPs.

'If they don't listen to us we will go to town and speak up publicly. We will become pro-active in setting the agenda. The BMA does a good job but there's a niche for us both.

'They can have terms and conditions but GPs are in charge of their own learning. I think they will fully agree that is the role for the RCGP.'

It is traditional for new leaders to argue there has never been a more important time for the changes they want to bring, but Dr Lakhani convinces when he argues that increased fragmentation of care, greater use of private providers and reform of education and training make this a vital time for the profession as well as the college.

In his own words

Dr Mayur Lakhani on...

...skill mix

The RCGP invented skill mix but I am concerned at the way physician practitioners may be implemented. They are not doctors.

...unity

I want to show the college is for every GP. I want to get members back.

...portfolio careers

As an artist has a portfolio so GPs would have one ­ which they can take to their appraisal.

...protected learning time

It's not enough.

...revalidation

People need clarity ­ they are crying out for information, to know what they need to do.

...the Shipman Inquiry

There must not be any knee-jerk reactions.

...how he will be judged

Will people still wonder what the RCGP is for?

...and, finally, on Pamela Anderson

I thought it was Bill Clinton.

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