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Heading up primary care at NHS England

Dr Mike Bewick

Age: 57

Location: Works at NHS England’s headquarters in Leeds, or in London

Current role: Deputy medical director, NHS England, and strategic lead for primary care

Career history: GP partner in Cumbria for more than 20 years. Medical director of Cumbria PCT

What does your job involve?

I spend my week working with colleagues in four principal areas: primary care strategy; revalidation, which I lead on for NHS England; specialised commissioning; and informatics. I cover for NHS England’s medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, when he is unavailable.

Have any of your old GP colleagues disagreed with the policies you’ve worked on at NHS England?

Most have been supportive, if only in agreeing that we’ve taken policies in the right direction. Some worry about workload, but our record has been to reduce bureaucracy as evidenced by the recent changes to the QOF. I have seen a sea-change in the views of GPs, who recognise change is necessary to sustain services and attract the best graduates.

Given the row over NHS England’s Christmas closing plan, did you and your colleagues work on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve?

I wasn’t in the office as I’d taken annual leave, although I did prepare a couple of press statements on Christmas Eve, but yes, colleagues were at work on both days.

What’s the most common assumption GPs make about your role?

I don’t know what GPs say in private, but I am always open to criticism about being aloof or detached. I try to keep my feet firmly on the ground – and I am lucky to have people around me who let me know when I don’t.

How much do you get paid?

I am on a VSM (very senior manager) salary, unchanged for the past four years.

How did you get your job?

In the NHS reorganisation I was approached to apply for the regional medical director’s post in the north and I was appointed to that and as deputy to Sir Bruce. Following Professor Steve Field’s move to the CQC, I have moved full-time to the national post.

What’s the most challenging thing about your role?

The travel and time commitment makes having an ordinary family life impossible.

How many hours a week do you work?

I am usually away from home two nights a week and work three to four hours at weekends. I get up at 6am and am lucky to be home by 7.30pm. I never work less than 60 hours a week; on average it’s probably nearer to 70.

If you weren’t a medic, what would you like to do for a living?

To truly change society you need a mandate. If I was 20 years younger I would try to get elected to Parliament.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

The day I walked onto a ward as a newly qualified doctor still takes some beating. I was, like many of my generation, the first member of my family to go to university, never mind into a profession.

What trait do you most deplore in your colleagues?

Worthiness. I hate anodyne comments such as ‘we are only here to serve’ or ‘patients always come first for me’. This should go without saying but sometimes we lapse into Hollywood-style sentiment.

What’s the best piece of advice your GP trainer gave you?

Never lose your enthusiasm. I haven’t.

What would you like to achieve before you retire?

I’d like to minimise the burden on patients of uncoordinated care. The day of your illness shouldn’t determine your chance of recovery, so some move towards seven-day working is essential.

What do you miss most about general practice?

Daily contact with patients. I like solving problems, and you get many chances to do that each day when you’re seeing patients.