Arno Timmermans has left the Dutch College of General Practitioners

On September 13th, the Dutch College of General Practitioners organized a ceremony to mark the fact that Arno Timmermans stepped down as medical director and President. The occasion brought to an end an impressive leadership of primary care. Since his appointment as medical director of the Dutch College of General Practitioners, in 2000, Arno Timmermans had represented general practice and primary care in health care and society. His passionate, but at the same time academic, promotion of primary care as a key component of the health care system, had been very successful and strengthened the position of the College as partner in health care reforms and innovations.

In this, the international interactions of College and its members with the world of primary care were an integral part of Arno’s activities. This came forward in his personal active participation in WONCA’s World and European Councils, but also in the high participation rate of young Dutch general practitioners and registrars in WONCA conferences. Under his leadership, the position of the next generation of general practitioners as active partners in shaping the future of the discipline has been secured.

Arno Timmermans joined the College in the early years of its programme of guideline development to promote evidence based medicine. This has left a lasting mark on his approach to health care innovations, and also to the development of general practice – grand designs had their attraction, but real commitment should be based of proof of effect. In a Dutch saying ‘it is better to see it first, before believing in it’. This remained his approach when he had become the leader of the College. Issues at stake should be seen in the context of improving health of people and populations, and discussions should focus on actual facts.

Arno Timmerman’s leadership was based on collaboration. This has been particularly impressive in bringing together the worlds of science and society. He secured close links between the College and the eight University Departments of General Practice/Primary Care, and at the same time fostered a lasting collaboration with the medical-societal organization, the Association of General Practitioners. The strength of this triangle of profession, discipline and academia is in all probability a driving force behind the success of primary care in The Netherlands.

Throughout these years, Arno Timmermans continued his activities in patient care, working a day a week in the practice, in an innovative health centre, up till a couple of weeks before he stepped down from the College. Arno Timmermans’ directorship changed the College from the ‘club of peers’ it had been since its founding in 1957, into a streamlined modern organization. One of the structural changes brought him, in addition to the position of medical director, in 2004, the College Presidency. Until September, he had combined these two functions.

Arno’s many friends in WONCA may be wondering what has made him leave this core position in Dutch primary care. Since September 2012, Arno Timmermans has been president of the board of the Westfriesgasthuis, a large regional hospital. It heralds a next phase in health care development – closer interaction between primary and secondary care. Arno Timmermans will certainly make an impact in this setting. He will continue work for the best health and health care of people, but ‘before believing it, demand to see it first’.

Arno, on behalf of WONCA: thank you for your contributions over the many years, and all the best in this new, prestigious position.

Prof Chris van Weel
Immediate Past President of WONCA.