Since taking office as the RCP’s 101st president on 26 September, Professor Andrew Goddard has been introducing himself to members and fellows and outlining his priorities for his 4-year term. In his first interview with Commentary since becoming president, Professor Goddard discusses some of those priorities, while outlining some of the challenges ahead.
Our role in influencing government and policy
The RCP is a respected body, so our responses have to continue to be evidence-based, common sense, measured, and honest. Provided we keep to those principles, we won’t go far wrong. I think we have historically been a bit slow to respond to some issues, although that can be good because it allows you to be a bit more measured. However, in future I hope that we can be a bit more responsive, and I’m looking forward to investing in, and trying to develop, our media presence.
One of the biggest challenges that I have going around the country is people asking me: ‘Why should I become a fellow? What’s the college done for me?’ We do a huge amount of activity which affects and benefits doctors every day of their lives, but not enough people know about it. We need to put ourselves out there much more. When I was doing a leg of my Charter Cycle in Chesterfield, one of the consultants I met there said: ‘What is the RCP going to look like after four years of Goddard presidency?’ I said I want us to be much more recognisable, and I want people to know what the RCP does. I know the college does lots of stuff and we are a really worthwhile organisation, and I think the RCP makes a huge difference both to patient care but also to doctors’ lives. I want that to become much more apparent to our members and fellows.
I see RCP North as doing three things. Firstly, it’s going to be a purpose designed examinations and assessment centre. Not only will we be doing RCP exams there, and exams for the Faculty of Physician Associates, but also exams for other organisations, too.
Secondly, the new building will be part of the RCP’s infrastructure. We do a lot of activity in London that we could do anywhere in the country. The advantage of doing it in Liverpool is that the cost per square foot is around one-third of what it is in London. That means we can make better use of our space in London and, from a business perspective, we are much more viable in the long term.
We have a voice to represent people, and we have to demonstrate that we know what we’re representing.
While there will be an initial financial hit for us, as we have to do the fitting for the building, the vast majority of the cost has been supported by Liverpool City Council. The costs for us are easily repaid over a 25-year period, and then the running costs for the college over the next 100 years will be far, far lower than they are now, so there is a financial benefit of doing RCP North.
Then there’s the third element, which is the importance of having a large-scale physical presence outside of London to demonstrate that we’re not London-centric. Clearly I’m biased, because I’m from outside London, but I think over the past four years we have got much better at decentralising the college.
Having somewhere that is a focus for clinicians and academics, which is an important part of it, in Liverpool is part of my vision for RCP North. To that end, we will recruit a local clinician to be act either as medical director or vice-president for RCP North to develop those networks and links and make the project a success.
How the RCP can support the NHS workforce
Firstly, the RCP needs to demonstrate that it recognises what the problems are. If you’re seen as being distant and out of touch, that doesn’t help anybody. We have a voice to represent people, and we have to demonstrate that we know what we’re representing.
The second thing we can do is to come up with solutions, rather than just problems. You’re never going to be an effective leadership or lobbying organisation in the NHS unless you can come up with some solutions to the problems. Yes, we raise issues of workforce but then we come up with an evidence-based solution and how you deliver that. That requires you working with people. Jane Dacre has talked about the difference between being ‘inside the tent’ and ‘outside the tent’. You can’t change people’s minds and affect the way decisions are made if you’re locked outside the committee room. You have to develop relationships in order to be able to influence decisions.
There’s always a bit of a grey line in how you approach this, and you don’t want to be accused of appeasement or be seen as complicit. Looking back, for example, at the Health and Social Care Bill and subsequent Act (2012), thankfully that was before my time as registrar. I think you could argue that the RCP got that one wrong. We need to be involved, come up with practical solutions but also make sure we are true to ourselves and we understand what the membership and fellowship really think when we’re making those big contributions.
Professor Andrew Goddard is the current president of the RCP. You can follow him on Twitter at @bodgoddard
The full interview appears In the October edition of RCP membership magazine, Commentary.