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RCGP council member forced to apologise in presidential election row

The normally sedate process of electing the RCGP´s next president has erupted into controversy within days of nominations opening, with a leading candidate being forced to apologise to the incumbent.

Dr Una Coales came second in the presidential election three years ago and is standing again for the largely ceremonial post, but has been forced to retract a statement she made about the GP who won, Dr Iona Heath.

Dr Heath, a now-retired GP and a BMJ columnist, made a formal complaint after Dr Coales mistakenly suggested on her website and blog that Dr Heath had not taken the MRCGP examination.

Dr Coales, who is an RCGP Council member and a GP in Stockwell, south London, retracted the statement when the college made clear Dr Heath had not only passed the exam in 1981 but had been awarded the Fraser Rose Medal for gaining the highest marks that year.

Dr Coales amended her website and after discussions with the college posted an apology and statement of fact about Dr Heath´s qualifications on the site. It will remain there until 29 March and the statement of fact will remain on the college webpage for six months until 29 July.

Nominations for the election will close at the end of March and voting - open to the college´s 36,000 members - will take place in the second half of May. RCGP rules do not allow Dr Heath to restand for the post.

Dr Coales has said she aspires to be ‘an inspiring teacher of GPs presenting novel ideas, insights and concepts into what it means to be a GP, and a world ambassador'.

Dr Coales's statement on her website reads: ‘I apologise and would like to make the following statement of fact. The role of RCGP president is open to all members and fellows of the college in good standing. My assumptions about the eligibility of Dr Heath were incorrect.'

Dr Coales said it was an honest mistake: ‘I said something a little bit unwise. I have discussed this with the college officers. I have apologised and the matter is closed.'