‘Much loved and respected’ former BMA council chair John Marks has died at the age of 97.
In an obituary, published by BMA’s The Doctor magazine, the GP was described as a ‘pioneer of the profession’.
It describes how Dr Marks stood firm against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s ambition to introduce competition forces in the health service.
Dr Marks was BMA council chair from 1984 to 1990, and is perhaps best remembered for fighting to resist the privatisation of the NHS.
Born in 1925, Dr Marks qualified from medical school at Edinburgh University on 5 July, 1948 – the day the NHS began.
In his early years as a doctor, he served in the army in the Middle East, and later became a GP in Hertfordshire.
In 1989, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government introduced a white paper which included plans for GP fund-holding and for hospitals to become self-governing trusts.
A majority of the public polled believed the plans would lead to NHS privatisation and, led by Dr Marks, the BMA responded with a robust advertising campaign.
Dr Marks also campaigned to protect the rights granted through the Abortion Act, and led the BMA’s response to the new challenge of HIV through the publication of a guide, AIDS and You, in 1987.
When asked his greatest achievement, he always gave the same answer – marrying his wife Shirley Nathan in 1954. She also became a GP at his practice, and survives him, along with his three children.
Former BMA council chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul, told The Doctor: ‘John Marks was BMA council chair when I qualified as a GP in 1989. It was at the time of the infamous government white paper proposing an internal market in the NHS which I felt represented the antithesis of the NHS’s founding principles.
‘I recall how proud I felt that under his leadership the BMA was defiantly standing up to the government each time I saw the billboard, “What do you call a man who doesn’t listen to medical advice? Kenneth Clarke”.’
BMA council chair Phil Banfield said: ‘John was an inspirational figure and exceptional advocate and campaigner who made a real difference to the lives and rights of doctors and patients.’
He described Dr Marks as ‘much loved and respected’, and that he ‘could only aspire’ to fulfil the example his predecessor as council chair had set.
John Chisholm, the former chair of the BMA’s GPs and ethics committees, called Dr Marks a ‘giant of medical politics’.
He said: ‘John was one of the best and most effective chairs of BMA council in living memory. He was chair from 1984 to 1990, serving a six-year term – an exception to the usual three to five years, which had not previously been granted since the 1940s.
‘His time as chair was notable for his clear moral purpose in the role.’
As well as his work to protect the NHS, including his support for the junior doctors’ hours campaign, John was also on the right side of debates about AIDS, HIV infection and abortion.
‘John’s leadership of the BMA campaign against the Thatcher-Clarke NHS reforms, which proposed the establishment of an NHS internal market, self-governing hospitals and GP fund-holding, was masterly and principled.’ He said the campaign influenced public and political opinion and won concessions.