Professor Steve Field has become something of a Marmite figure, gaining praise and disapprobation in equal measure since his appointment as chair of the NHS Future Forum in the spring of last year.
His rise in the influence rankings reflects his willingness to take on the task of leading the Government’s much-maligned listening exercise on its controversial health bill – a role described as a ‘poisoned chalice’ by one of our panel.
The former RCGP chair has launched stinging attacks on the quality of general practice in some areas, and caused controversy with his claim that GPs’ resistance to the abolition of practice boundaries was ‘complete bollocks‘, winning him the title of Pulse’s ‘unlikely punk of the year’ award in 2011.
But he will mostly be remembered for making the case for the Government’s health reforms – and for his claim that Prime Minister David Cameron ‘would make a great GP’.
His impact on the NHS reforms will be felt for decades to come, with the listening exercise resulting in a duty on Monitor to encourage integration rather than competition, nurses and consultants gaining a bigger role in clinical commissioning and the retention of any qualified provider.
Professor Field was subsequently handed responsibility for updating the NHS Constitution, saying it needed ‘sharper teeth’. In June, he added his voice to those calling for GP trainees to receive mental health education as part of the curriculum. He has also continued to support direct access for patients to their GP records, and has even suggested they should be able to add to and correct them.
One member of our panel felt Professor Field’s work has been more visible than genuinely influential, but another felt he had been treated ‘unfairly’ and deserved credit for keeping the debate over inclusion and health inequalities ‘at the forefront’. His work on the Department of Health’s National Inclusion Board is testament to his origins – he is from a deprived area of the Black Country – and he continues to work as a GP in Birmingham.
Professor Field admits the past year has been difficult, but feels he has had a positive influence on policy: ‘I’ve found it uncomfortable when people have attacked my work without knowing what I was doing. To me, reforming the NHS is an apolitical issue – whatever we set up is going to survive successive governments.
‘My influence on policy is there for people to see when they look for it. But I did find it frustrating sometimes, being behind the scenes.’
This autumn marks a turning point in his career – his chairmanship of the national GP working group will end in September and NHS Future Forum’s work on the constitution will end in November. He will continue to work for the NHS, he says, but will give little else away about his next career move.
Best moment: NHS Future Forum calls for radical changes to make NHS more integrated
Worst moment: U-turn over support for practice boundaries