From the President: March 2017

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I attended the Executive Board of WHO in late January with Dr Manning. Much of the Assembly was preoccupied with the election of the next Secretary General, which will occur in May 2017, and with the core historical business of management of international infectious disease outbreaks and other humanitarian crises. However, there were several items on the agenda where we gave statements on behalf of WONCA – on workforce, and also migrant health. You can see the whole Executive Board agenda with published statements on the WHO website.

We are currently working both within WONCA, and with the WHO Service Development and Delivery leads, to define our preferred models of the position of family medicine within a strong primary heath care workforce. Most of our thinking is already done – train as many family doctors as possible, and make sure they can offer accessible, affordable, high quality care over time, to an identified population where they can integrate care at the level of the person and across the cycle of health and illness. Easy to say – but hard to do: so it is great that we have established contacts at WHO level and can build on these.

We also had meetings with a number of other directorates linked to our Working Parties and Special Interest Groups – mental health, environmental issues, workers health, classification, ageing and the lifecycle. There were meetings with other NGOs such as the International College of Nurses, and the International Federation of Medical students – both important to the workforce discussions.

I also attended a meeting of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), at the suggestion of WHO colleagues. This was called ‘People at the Centre: a Policy Forum on the Future of Health’, and it felt like the speakers had belatedly discovered the importance of people rather than diseases! A lot of commendable issues about patient priorities and integrated care were discussed, though with predictable concerns about the need to measure activity and contain costs. An important document was launched at the event by the Commonwealth Fund, and was the subject of one of the main panel discussions ‘Designing High-Performance Health Care System for Patients with Complex Needs – Ten Recommendations for Policy Makers’.

This document said that ‘more family physicians and geriatricians were needed’ rather than the escalating numbers of hospital subspecialists seen in most OECD countries. Another report on the OECD website ‘Caring for Quality in Health’ had four major recommendations on strengthening primary care and the role of generalists – so these two reports are worth quoting to support our case.

Much of the rest of my time on WONCA business has been spent on:

- the development and review of materials from our Working Parties and Special Interest Groups (SIGs) as they update for the new biennium, including identification of gaps in activity; and

- many internal discussions and preparations for talks and meeting in March and April – including the WONCA East Mediterranean region conference, a visit to our member organisation, the Cross Straits Medicine Exchange Association in mainland China, and the next meeting of the WONCA Executive at the end of March.

Finally at a personal level, I have continued to enact what I think we all need to do in our own place and context – see patients, prepare for the annual professional review meeting for my clinical and academic work (called an ‘appraisal’, a requirement of all doctors in UK - find out more here); supervise and support students, registrars, and learners in various roles; be active in research and improving the knowledge base for clinical practice; and continue to champion family medicine in whatever way I can and is needed. 

If you want to see a short interview with me in the British Medical Journal, please have a look here.

Amanda Howe
WONCA President