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President's column

Having taken over the BGS Presidency from Paul Knight in October, this is my first Newsletter column as President.

Paul was the society’s twentieth President and the fifth Scot. I must start by paying fulsome tribute to his contribution during four years as president-elect and then president of the Society. Before that he served in several clinical leadership roles in the BGS, Glasgow College and EUGMS, going well beyond the call of duty across two decades or more. His characteristic blend of calm commonsense and astuteness has brought considerable clarity and purpose to the structure and work of the society.

During Paul’s watch we  brought the organisation of our conferences (including SIGs and Section events) in- house, thereby improving their profitability;  we  slimmed down and clarified the tasks of our various standing committees; we have appointed two excellent lay trustees in Jimmy Miller and Anna Dixon who have added considerable value to our decision making and strategy. We have overseen the appointment of a full time Policy Officer in Patricia Conboy, who started in October and increased the capacity in our press and public relations team. We also made real progress in getting the General Medical Council to recognise the importance of training and skills in the care of older people, and we are working more closely with Health Education England and NHS Education Scotland on skills and training in the care of older people.

New Appointments and a growing media footprint
Paul’s tenure has also led to the appointment of Vice Presidents for Academic and Research Affairs and Clinical Quality in Gordon Wilcock and Gill Turner respectively, and to a dedicated workforce lead (Zoe Wyrko). Our website and social media presence has grown considerably, as has our membership (c 3,000) twitter followership (3,000) and social media impact.

Crucially, we have appointed a first rate and highly experienced CEO in Colin Nee who is already helping us to become a much more professional organisation.

I am also delighted to welcome Dr Eileen Burns on board as President-Elect. Eileen is a hugely popular and respected clinician both in her local service in Leeds and in the wider BGS, and it is good to have someone so steeped in leading services and in collaborating across organisational boundaries with primary and community care and social services. For those who have not seen the King’s Fund write up of the Leeds interface model that Eileen leads, the interview with her can be viewed at

Continuing the push around care home medicine
Eileen and I have already met with CQC chief inspector for Social Care, Andrea Sutcliffe – setting out the BGS viewpoint on meeting the health care needs of care home residents and ensuring adequate assessment and rehabilitation before they enter care homes. The BGS’s constant awareness raising around this issue is bearing fruit, with access to specialist care for carehome residents, the role of the BGS and our Care Home Commissioning Guidance, all featuring in the crucial NHS England “Five Year Forward View” about which I blogged in October.

Geriatricians in the spotlight
Despite our speciality's long and noble tradition and our contribution to the development of services from the NHS's inception and despite being the most numerous GiM discipline, we don't always get the "airtime" and profile our work deserves.

So it has been heartening to see geriatricians getting long overdue recognition for service leadership. Prof Tom Downes of Sheffield who is incredibly self-effacing and generous and always gives credit to his local colleagues, has received considerable attention for his groundbreaking work on redesign of patient pathways in Sheffield - the service has been visited to death, so keen are people to learn the lessons. Eileen Burns, our president elect has featured in a high profile King's Fund report on specialists working in the community. Professor Tony Rudd has been named among the HSJ top 100 Clinical Leaders for his contribution to stroke services. Both Jugdeep Dhesi of Buys and St Thomas' Hospital and Alison Cracknell from Leeds have been included in the HSJ "top 100 innovators" list for their contribution to surgical liaison and patient safety work respectively. It is gratifying to see our members getting overdue respect for their contributions to service leadership, thus challenging assumptions that geriatrics might be a "backwater" speciality. At the moment, rapid population ageing and the realisation that older people living with frailty, dementia or multiple co-morbidities are now "core business" has put geriatric medicine in the spotlight and it is fantastic to have inspirational medics such as these showing the rest of the health care community just what we can do.

Membership Survey
Colin and I will be overseeing a structured survey of the BGS membership in 2015, to find out how you think the Society is doing and what else you would like to see it doing. There is a great deal the BGS already does behind the scenes in terms of influencing, responding to consultations, guideline groups, advocating for older people, funding research and study, and the work of the committees that is less visible than the Scientific Meetings or Age and Ageing. These activities are summarised in our narrative slide set ( [Select About Us/Work of the BGS), so the more BGS members we can get involved in helping us with this work, the better. We don’t always want to rely on the “usual suspects” and would especially welcome up and coming trainees, newly appointed consultants, nurses and AHPs.

Our strategic goals
For the next three years, we have set out a clear strategic vision and set of priorities. The strategy document can be read at Of course, with an election coming up, there will be plenty of “breaking news” for us to respond to. But our policy priorities will continue to be:

1. Improving care for frail older people in hospital
2. Integration and care closer to home for older people
3. Dissemination of good practice models
4. Workforce skills and planning.

And we have a particular focus to expand our membership by attracting more GPs, Nurses, Allied Health Professionals and Psychiatrists as well as pre-higher speciality training doctors and medical students. As a speciality, we preach multidisciplinary team working and so, as a society, there is an urgent need to embrace and encourage multi-disciplinary membership.

Broadening the scope of our meetings
What might we do to improve our scientific meetings? Expanding our membership to greater numbers of ‘non-geriatricians’ will, of course entail putting on meetings and publications which have sufficient relevance to these wider professional groups. With regard to our bi-annual scientific meetings, I have heard a variety of views about what people would like to see at these and would welcome more feedback. Any views sent to me at or to would be gratefully received.

Matters of conscience and law
Last but by no means least, in the wake of Lord Falconer’s Bill on physician-assisted suicide, we thought long and hard about whether to poll the membership for general views on this issue. However, because the RCP London is conducting its own poll, for the time being, we would encourage geriatricians who are members of the London College to participate in that poll. The results might give us food for thought about how to proceed, not just in England but in all four nations.

David Oliver


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