Professor Steve Field has been quiet of late, but his appointment as chief inspector of general practice thrusts him right back into the national spotlight.
Viewed as a capable RCGP chair and ranked among the most influential GPs in the UK for several years running, he has carved himself a somewhat controversial career since he left the college in 2010.
Most famously, he was the chair of the NHS Future Forum that was tasked with leading a ‘listening exercise’ on the Government’s health reforms in 2011. Almost exactly a year ago, he was appointed NHS England’s deputy medical director.
He was described in Pulse’s 2012 Top 50 as a ‘you either love him or hate him’-style figure, and he certainly is not afraid to speak his mind, even if it makes him unpopular.
Over the past couple of years this has included giving his support for the removal of practice boundaries (he described GP resistance as ‘complete bollocks’) and during the inflamed debate on GP out-of-hours care in the spring, Professor Field took to his Twitter account to announce that GPs ‘should never have given up responsibility’ in the first place.
But his appointment will please some GPs, as he will bring a detailed understanding of the profession to the post and is well-respected for his work on reducing inequalities in the NHS.
A GP from a deprived part of Birmingham, Professor Field has been a champion of the value of integration over competition in the new-world NHS.
But his new role is going to be tough. It includes the responsibility for forming an ‘Ofsted-style’ ratings system for GP practices – something that is not going to go down well with his GP colleagues. He also has to restore faith in a regulator that has not endeared itself to GPs.
But if his performance at the 2011 NHS Alliance conference is anything to go by, Professor Field is not going to be a push-over. He said then that the provision of general practice in the UK was variable to the extent that it had ‘lost the plot’.
Now he has the power to sort this out, GPs had better watch out.