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Thursday, 24 May, 2001, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
GMC boss stepping down early
The General Medical Council is undergoing a huge overhaul
Sir Donald Irvine, the president of the General Medical Council (GMC), is to step down six months early.

His time at the top of the doctor's regulatory body has been dogged with controversy.

Questions have been raised about the profession's ability to keep its house in order following high profile scandals such as the deaths of children at the Bristol Royal Infirmary and the retention of organs by Alder Hey Children's Hospital.

And last summer the British Medical Association passed a vote of no confidence in the council, claiming it was losing touch with the medical profession.

Sir Donald admitted his time as president had been high pressured.

But he said his decision to retire early was taken simply because he felt he had taken the council as far as he could.

Being president of the GMC is a difficult job and will remain a difficult job

Sir Donald Irvine

He said he had been elected to the GMC on a reform ticket and that this was what he had done during his six and a half years in charge.

Just this week the GMC agreed to ask the government for the legislation to ensure five yearly "MoT's" for medics.

Reform plans

There are already plans in hand to reform the council, which has been roundly criticised for being too unwieldy, bureaucratic and slow.

And the GMC is looking closely at how it trains, regulates and disciplines doctors.

Sir Donald said that when he took on the job as president he had expected it to be difficult, but that nothing could have prepared him for the way medicine would be thrust into the media spotlight.

In addition to Bristol and Alder Hey, the profession was left reeling by the Shipman murders and the cases of errant gynaecologists Rodney Ledwood and Richard Neale.

Sir Donald Irvine
Sir Donald Irvine is to step down six months early

"My predecessors did not have this to deal with. It has all happened since Bristol, when the medical profession went under the spotlight.

"Being president of the GMC is a difficult job and will remain a difficult job in my view because it is bringing together the two big stake holders - the public and the profession.

Sir Donald, who has been a member of the GMC since 1979, said that during his term of office he had completed a large proportion of the work that needed to be done, but said a new president would be vital to see through these changes.

New leader

"For me the main elements of the job - my job - of trying to knit together a coherent picture of professionalism, are nearly done.

"I therefore propose to demit office as president in the early new year.

Harold Shipman
The Shipman case had huge ramifications for the medical profession

The new GMC president will be appointed at the November meeting of the council.

Dr Wendy Savage, a leading obstetrician and GMC member, said Sir Donald would be remembered as a man who had brought in 'laudable changes'.

But Dr Savage, who once launched a leadership challenge against Sir Donald, said that his personal 'style' had alientated some doctors.

"His efforts to get fitness to practise on a more formal basis have been laudable, it is difficult to get change, but you have got to take people with you and sometimes Sir Donald has gone on lines that have alientated him from the council."

Fellow GMC member Dr Krishna Korlipara, said Sir Donald would be remebered mainly for revalidation and the Bristol heart babies case.

"I think Sir Donald will be remembered as the one who has taken the reins at the worst possible time. He has his critics, but he has done a wonderful job.

"But to some he will be remembered as the man who divided the profession over the vote of no confidence with the BMA."

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See also:

24 May 01 | Health
Doctors want regular 'MoT'
16 Jan 01 | Health
NHS 'fails to respect patients'
13 Sep 99 | The Bristol heart babies
GMC chief frustrates parents
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