As chair of council of the RCGP, I haven’t got a typical working day, though I do try and divide up the week, with Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and evenings spent on college business.
On Tuesday, for example, I had a meeting at the King’s Fund, then a session filming with the BBC’s Panorama for a programme about abortion. Then I had to give a keynote speech to the GP Foundation (part of the RCGP) and attend a lunch at the House of Commons promoting better continence care. The afternoon included a meeting with health minister Dan Poulter. In the evening I went to dinner with the Faculty of Medical Leadership and Management.
Clinical work as a GP
I top and tail the week with clinical work for the Hurley Group – the group of practices in south London of which I am a partner – on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. I try not to interrupt that. It’s incredibly difficult but I have become very disciplined about it. In some clinical sessions I see patients who attend the surgery at short notice (many of whom do not have English as a first language).
I also see patients with substance misuse problems and sick doctors, for whom I provide continuity of care. I have been seeing some of them for 20 years. I am also chairing an integrated care pilot.
Tips for success
- Get the basics right – home, relationships and family. It is really important to have support in those moments when it’s really tough. Don’t beat yourself up about family. Invest in as much good childcare as you can. As long as you are providing the right kind of home, the fact that you’re not always there will matter more for you than for them.
- Be organised – I have fantastic secretarial support. People don’t believe me when I say that sometimes I have no time to send a text, but it is true. I get 1,000 emails a day so I can’t personally read them all. I try to have half a day off at the weekend but it is an honour to be chair of council and I owe it to the members to be available. I don’t have a cut-off time for stopping work in the evening, but I do now switch my phone to silent during the night.
- Set the rules – the sick doctors and drug misusers I see through the Practitioner Health Programme can contact me directly by text because that is much easier, but I set the rules, and they do not abuse this way of contacting me.
What keeps me going
I have never had an entirely normal working life because I have always done several roles at once – for example, I used to run a clinic for homeless drug users when I was a GP registrar. The RCGP is inclusive, and has had inspiring leaders. Leadership is frightening. Every morning when I listen to the news I think ‘Is this something that’s going to affect GPs, and am I going to need to respond?’ But my role is immensely enjoyable.
Qualified in medicine at University College, London, in 1982.
Trained in psychiatry and worked at the Maudsley Hospital in south London, specialising in substance misuse.
Qualified as a GP in 1992. Became a partner at the Hurley Clinic, a practice on the ground floor of a 19-storey housing estate in Lambeth in south London.
Awarded an MBE for services to medicine and substance misuse in June 2000.
Established the RCGP’s Certificate in the Management of Drug Misuse in 2001. Sat as chair of the RCGP ethics committee and council vice chair before being voted in as chair in November 2010. She is the college’s first female chair for 50 years.