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GP becomes Scotland’s chief medical officer following resignation

Scotland GPs

Dr Gregor Smith, a GP in Larkhall in South Lanarkshire, has been announced as the interim chief medical officer of Scotland. 

He replaces Dr Catherine Calderwood, who resigned from the position last night after flouting her own instructions to avoid all but essential travel. 

Dr Smith and Dr Calderwood served as deputy and chief medical officer respectively since March 2015. He is the former medical director of primary care for NHS Lanarkshire, joining the Scottish Government eight years ago as a medical adviser in primary care.

Subsequently, he led the development of a new quality framework for general practice in Scotland; and negotiated the country’s GP contract.

Dr Smith has been described as having particular interests in patient-centred care and shared decision-making.

Dr Calderwood had been found to have visited her holiday home in Fife for two consecutive weekends during the lockdown enforced due to coronavirus. This is approximately 45 miles from her main Edinburgh residence.

After apologising, she participated in yesterday’s daily press briefing as per standard procedure. First minister Nicola Sturgeon had intended for her to remain in the role, stating: ‘All of us, including me, will make mistakes in these unprecedented times.

‘When we do, we must be candid about it and learn from it. That is what I know the chief medical officer is doing.’

The plan had been for Dr Calderwood, an obstetrician and gynaecologist, to only stay out of public information campaigns, but she later said: ‘I am deeply sorry for my actions and the mistakes I have made.

‘The first minister and I have had a further conversation this evening and we have agreed that the justifiable focus on my behaviour risks becoming a distraction from the hugely important job that Government and the medical profession has to do in getting the country through this coronavirus pandemic. Having worked so hard on the Government’s response, that is the last thing I want.

‘It is with a heavy heart that I resign as chief medical officer.

‘I will work with my team over the next few days to ensure a smooth transition to my successor.’

Nicola Sturgeon paid tribute to her colleague’s achievements. In a statement, she said: ‘Dr Calderwood’s advice to me, to the Government and to people across Scotland over the past few weeks has been the right advice. People should continue to stay at home to protect the NHS and to save lives.

‘It is however clear that the mistake she made – even though she has apologised sincerely and honourably for it – risks distracting from and undermining confidence in the Government’s public health message at this crucial time. That is not a risk either of us is willing to take.
‘Catherine has been a transformational CMO, bringing changes to the way medicine is delivered in Scotland and in particular using her experience to bring an overdue focus to women’s health. 
‘She leaves office with my thanks and admiration.’

Health secretary Jeanne Freeman added: ‘I am sad that she has resigned – I think we will miss the considerable contribution she made, but it was the right decision’.

One of the final tasks of Dr Calderwood’s tenure was, along with the UK’s other chief medical officers, to urge ‘every effort to be made’ in enrolling Covid-19 patients into national priority clinical trials, including in primary care.

As of yesterday, 3,961 people in Scotland had tested positive for the coronavirus, while 222 had died.