A glimpse behind the closed doors of RCGP Council: what I saw when I sat as an observer for a day, June 2016

I was expecting something very different. A dark hall full of red velvet curtains and Freemason style handshakes, secretive nods and a general feeling of being high up safe and secure from the current perilous state of general practice.

What I saw couldn’t have been more different. First impressions of the room were that the layout was more similar to the United Nations General Assembly – a detailed map of who and where everyone was sitting, a front facing central speakers desk, individual microphones at each seat. Formal, yes but intimidating, no. I sat on the edge of the back row with my phone tucked safely away until I had got to grips with the rules on Tweeting – not during the debates.

Proceedings were called to order fairly briskly by RCGP Chair Prof Maureen Baker and the bustling joviality stopped as the meeting began. I noticed a tangible change in mood of the room and with good reason, there were serious matters to discuss. There were about 40 points on the agenda, including debating and deliberating the recent publication from NHS England – the General Practice Forward View.

Some particular points were picked out by Council members and debated with some panache. Those that wanted to speak sent an electronic message to the Chair and were then invited to stand and present their point in the most succinct way possible and at times there were queues of 10 or more members waiting to contribute.

Council members included Faculty Reps and Devolved Council Members representing their networks of GPs across various regions across the UK. It was great to see all parts of the UK had a voice, presenting the local concerns of their own area. There was representation from younger GPs in the form of a First 5 Rep as well as a AiT Rep. As well there was a number of nationally elected Representatives who were particularly vocal in raising concerns of grassroots GPs as well as some non Council members observing such as myself.

Serious debate was punctuated by memorable soundbites including “every practice is one partner away from crisis” as well as lighter moments referring to regional cultural idiosyncrasies and concurrent live sporting events involving the devolved nations. It was obvious this room was not a collection of GPs working from an ivory tower. These were GPs that work amongst the rest of us and everyone in that room was well aware of the challenges facing the profession.

As I listened to these heartfelt contributions to the debate, I detected a theme of unity was developing in the room. Not of absolute agreement, there was definitely some scepticism at times, but also acknowledgement of the hard work the current Chair and her team had done.

The discussions and debates moved through the day with increasing pace on the agenda. “Hustings” was not a new College endorsed wine tasting affair (as I hoped!) but rather a series of short pressing speeches from the four candidates for the next Chair – voting remains privilege of the Council Members and results will be available the first week in July but each gave a passionate plea for their chance to lead the College from November when the current Chair steps down.

All in all, a fascinating insight into the political landscape of General Practice across the UK – a profession facing unprecedented challenges, divided on some issues but united in their resolve to save General Practice.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to sit as an observer at RCGP Council and would encourage any interested GP or GP trainee to contact the College for further details.v