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Interview: Dr Clare Gerada

RCGP chair Dr Clare Gerada tells Pulse how it feels to be named the most influential GP of 2011.

Pulse caught up with a relaxed and convivial Dr Gerada to ask how she feels about being crowned the most influential GP of 2011.

Pretty pleased, it turns out, as she describes how the health bill has consumed her time since becoming chair. ‘I haven't stopped for the last six months influencing at every single point possible,' she says, sounding impressively un-jaded considering the mountain of work in her in-tray.

Her concerns over the bill – around the pace of change, privatisation and the fragmentation of the health service – are well documented. The question is, what does she plan to do next?

‘We have a programme of engagement – which includes continuing to talk to those with influence, peers of all political parties, but also to Mr Lansley, to Mr Cameron, and to continue to engage with our members,' she explains.

The college plans to host separate events for patients and pathfinders to drill down into their experiences, and she says she will keeping a very close watch on the Government's ‘listening exercise'.

‘We will watch the outcome very very carefully because we have concerns,' she says, eyes narrowing.

Despite the political pressures that come with a job as high profile as hers, Dr Gerada seems entirely comfortable with her assumed role as the leading mouthpiece for disgruntled GPs.

‘The college, right from the day I became chair, has been highlighting these concerns. And it's good to see others now sharing them.'

But it is not just the health bill keeping Dr Gerada awake at night. She is also anxious to support leadership roles for the next generation of GPs, to preserve the role of the generalist, which she feels is under threat from the NHS reforms, and to extend GP training.

Dr Gerada has set herself extremely tough targets, and says she would feel she had ‘failed' if she does not bring about the latter of these changes by 2013. The college plans to take evidence to Medical Education England ‘by the end of this year' to put the case for extending training, around the need to develop GPs' skills in commissioning, paediatrics, mental health and public health.

‘We would hope extended training would be five years. We may have problems with that because of funding, but we will certainly hope we could end up with four years.'

Public health is also high on Dr Gerada's agenda, and, as chair of the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges' health inequalities group, she hopes to bring about change by building on evidence from Scotland, where an RCGP research project has been used to demonstrate to the Government the need to support GPs in tackling public health challenges. The project, entitled Time to Care, looked at the 100 poorest areas in Scotland, interviewed GPs working there and identified characteristics about the way they worked.

As Dr Gerada explains: ‘They found these areas were under-doctored, GPs had less time to see their patients, and they were less able to get involved in prevention. But they were much more involved with the patient community than in more affluent areas.'

As a result of the project, the Scottish Government is re-investing in general practice within these poor areas. ‘I am going to see if we can mirror that in England,' vows Dr Gerada.

With so much on her plate, the college chair could be forgiven for struggling to retain focus on every challenge facing the profession. But it turns out she has a plan: ‘On my computer at home I have an electronic post-it note which reminds me of what I want to achieve over the next three years. I don't want to let things distract me from what I see as important and what I was elected for.'

Click here to see this year's top 50, or read Dr Gerada's profile as most influential GP of the year.

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