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Tributes paid to Professor Helen Lester after she loses battle against illness

GP colleagues have paid tribute to the respected primary care researcher and QOF adviser Professor Helen Lester, who died on Saturday after an illness.

Professor Lester was a GP in inner city Birmingham and professor of primary care at the University of Birmingham. She played a key role in the piloting process for potential new QOF indicators on behalf of NICE, and was credited with moderating the Government’s desire to focus it more heavily on outcomes.

Professor Lester also had research interests in primary care mental health and providing care for homeless people, asylum seekers and refugees.

An online book of condolence has been launched by the Society for Academic Primary Care (SAPC) - which she chaired - and has already attracted many comments from friends and colleagues.

In a statement, the SAPC said they had lost a ‘great leader, colleague and friend’. Dr Joanne Reeve, clinical research associate at the University of Liverpool and a GP in the city, said: ‘We are shattered by the news. Yet it is also a great tribute to Helen that even as she leaves us we feel both inspired and determined to continue her work.’

Professor Lester was a member of RCGP Council and chair of the RCGP Clinical Innovation and Research Centre and mental health commissioning lead for the college. She also co-chaired the national cross-college Joint Commissioning Panel for Mental Health.

Professor Tony Kendrick, a GP and dean of Hull University Medical School, said Professor Lester led the field in research into the early recognition and support of people with psychosis in primary care.

He said: ‘She had insight, intelligence, and industry in spades, and made a significant difference to the care of millions of people through her own research and teaching, and her sustained leadership of academic primary care.

‘I was shocked to see her at the last RCGP/SAPC conference, fighting recurrent illness but still leading us from the front. I shall miss her very much.’

NICE deputy chief executive Dr Gillian Leng said: ‘Helen was a great support to NICE in establishing our work on indicator development for the QOF.  

‘Her wide-ranging knowledge of the issues surrounding data collection in primary care were invaluable, and her passionate support for improving the quality of services in primary care will be greatly missed.’

Professor Lester graduated from the University of Wales College of Medicine in 1985 and worked as a GP in Birmingham. She began her career in academic primary care at the University of Birmingham in 1995. Her research interests included the areas of quality improvement, the development of primary care mental health and the interactions between research, policy and clinical practice.