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Tuesday, 6 November, 2001, 13:16 GMT
New man in GMC hotseat
The GMC is electing a new leader
A Scottish academic has been chosen to take on the challenge of raising public confidence in the embattled medical profession.

Professor Graeme Catto, Vice-Principal of King's College and St Thomas' Hospitals Medical and Dental School, has been elected to take the place of Sir Donald Irvine as President of the General Medical Council (GMC).

Sir Donald is stepping down six months early after a turbulent period in charge, and Professor Catto is sure to face further controversy during his presidency.

The GMC has been under fire in the wake of a series of medical scandals, and widely accused of not doing enough to protect the public from bad doctors.

Graeme Catto
New president: Professor Graeme Catto
It is hitting back with reforms which will force doctors to prove they are up to the job.

Professor Catto, 56, said the public's perception of the GMC would be improved if they were better educated about what it did.

"We have to get the public to understand what it is we're doing," he said.

He has already chaired leading GMC committees, and was the favourite to win the vote of just under 100 GMC Council members on Tuesday.

Professor Catto is very active in other parts of the medical establishment, serving on national committees such as the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council - in 1997 he was appointed a Chief Scientist for the Scottish Executive.

His expertise is in kidney medicine, and he has published many scientific papers.

Professor Catto said he was "surprised and delighted" by the election result.

He said the medical profession itself needed better educating and training, and that improvements in that area were preferable to the GMC acting as the 'policeman' of the medical profession.

"Policing is the least best option. Of course its essential, but its an admission of failure to go down that route."

Faith shaken

During Sir Donald's tenure, the public's faith in doctors has been shaken by both the Bristol Babies case, which led to two doctors being struck off, and the Shipman murder trial.

Professor Catto's CV
Qualified - 1969
Worked in USA, including a position as Fellow in Medicine at Harvard University - 1975-1977
Consultant physician / renal specialist, Aberdeen Royal Infirmary - 1977-2000
Academic posts - University of Aberdeen - 1992-1998
Vice-principal, University of Aberdeen - 1998-2000
Chief Scientist, Scottish Department of Health - 1997-2000
The GMC is responsible for protecting the public by keeping a check on the fitness to practice of doctors across the UK.

It is a body independent from government.

It holds a register of doctors allowed to practice medicine and has the power to suspend or even remove them from it if it finds enough evidence of malpractice.

It produces guidelines about expected standards of practice which are distributed to all the UK's registered doctors.

Professor Catto's main rivals for the job included obstetrician and gynaecologist Professor Wendy Savage.

In the past, she has found herself on the wrong side of medical disciplinary procedures - she was suspended from her job for 15 months in 1985 over allegations about her approach to childbirth - and was forced to fight for her reinstatement.

She led an unsuccessful leadership challenge against Sir Donald this year.

The other unsuccessful candidates were Professor James Drife, Dr Shiv Pande, Dr Brian Keighley, and Mr Olusulu Oni.

Communicating change

Dr Simon Fradd, a GMC council member and joint deputy chairman said Professor Catto had an important role in communicating the changes the GMC was going through.

"It's the message which the president must concentrate on, for both the public and the profession."

Sir Donald Irvine
Sir Donald - stepping down early
Dr Keighley said: "One of the things he will offer is a connection with the public, but I'm also hoping he will bring the profession back in."

He said at the moment they felt a bit "disaffected".

Dr Ian Bogle, Chairman of the British Medical Association, congratulated Professor Catto on his success.

He said: "I have worked with him in the past on issues such as student health and I look forward to working closely with him again on the many issues facing the medical profession."

See also:

24 May 01 | Health
GMC boss stepping down early
28 May 01 | Health
System 'weeding out poor doctors'
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