Featured Doctor


UK : Convener SIG Conflict & Catastrophe Medicine

Professor Rich Withnall MD MA MSc FRCGP CMgr is the convener of the newly formed WONCA Special Interest Group on Conflict and Catastrophe Medicine. Find out more about their proposed activities here.

What work do you do currently?

I am currently the UK Defence Professor of General Practice & Primary Care. Having qualified in London (MBBS 1992), I now hold an MSc in Primary Care from the University of Birmingham, and an MA and Doctorate of Medicine from King’s College London. I lead the Academic Department of Military General Practice at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, Birmingham, UK. My Department is embedded within the University of Birmingham, so my excellent team of Lecturers, Academic Research Fellows, Academic General Practice Specialty Trainees and Administrators benefit from collaborating with other military and civilian Professorial departments, especially nursing, anaesthetics & critical care, emergency medicine, medicine, surgery and trauma & orthopedics. My role is to sustain innovation and excellence in military General Practice (Family Medicine) in order to optimize medical support to deployed operations, maximize the number of UK Service personnel fit to undertake their jobs, and provide the best possible quality of advice to Commanders. We deliver this innovation through research, the development of new concepts and processes, exploitation of new technologies and the development of new curricula and guidelines. Although I love Academic General Practice, I still really enjoy my clinical sessions too!

What are the other interesting activities that you have been involved in?

I’m a Fellow of the UK Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and a Chartered Manager; a member of RCGP Council; the RCGP Medical Director for International Accreditation and Training; the RCGP Lead for Non-NHS Revalidation (a 5-yearly process for all doctors registered the UK General Medical Council) and an Academy of Medical Royal Colleges GP Specialty Advisor. I’ve been a GP Trainer since 2002, and an Examiner in the MRCGP examination (the UK licensing examination for all GP trainees, and one of the biggest Family Medicine examinations in the world) since 2005. I am on the Core Group for the MRCGP Clinical Skills Assessment, and have a particular interest in examination psychometrics and working with the Role Players.

How did you come to be the leader of the Wonca S I G on conflict and catastrophe medicine?

I’ve been lucky enough to work in over 20 countries, including remote and rural locations in the Balkans, Canada, the Middle East, Scandinavia, South America, the South Atlantic and West Africa. It’s a huge privilege to learn from others’ practices and cultures, but also sometimes humbling and saddening to see the ‘Inverse Care Law’ is still so prevalent in times of conflict and catastrophe.

The World Health Organisation, United Nations and individual Governments and Administrations have long advocated the global use of primary health care to raise the levels of health in deprived populations by acting upon social, economic and political causes of ill health. Despite wide-ranging initiatives (including: Health for All (2000); the Eight Millennium Goals (2000); the Crisp Report (2007); Health is Global (2008); Primary Care Now More Than Ever (2008); and the Tallinn Charter (2008)), I believe this ambition remains as important today as when it was crafted at Alma-Ata in 1978.

Population deprivation and health inequality may result from or be exacerbated by wars, revolutions and civil uprisings, terrorism, natural disasters and other humanitarian crises. Having been involved in global analyses of strategic trends that anticipated conditions that could widen global health inequality, I became more convinced than ever that coordinated General Practice/Family Medicine efforts in times of conflict and catastrophe are hugely important, as evidenced by the 2004 Tsunami, the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, the 2007 flooding in Central Africa, and the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and earthquake in Nepal.

After discussions with WONCA delegates in Basel and Prague, and fantastic support for my proposal from Prof Michael Kidd, Prof Amanda Howe, Dr Garth Manning and the wider WONCA Executive, approval was granted for the establishment of the Special Interest Group in Conflict & Catastrophe Medicine (SIG C&CM). I am delighted that we now have engagement from General Practitioners/Family Medicine Doctors in 15 countries spanning all WONCA regions, but new SIG C&CM members are always welcome… click here to join.

What are your interests outside work?

Family time is very important. I am lucky to have a supportive wife who is Matron at King’s St Albans School, Worcester. We are blessed with a daughter and a son. I used to do a lot of sport, mainly swimming and rugby. Although my mind is still willing, my body is less so! Instead, I have season tickets at Kingsholm, home to the Premiership side ‘Gloucester Rugby’ where one of my General Practitioner friends is a club doctor. I really enjoy spending Saturday afternoons with my son watching ‘the Cherry and Whites’ at one of the most atmospheric rugby grounds in England, then Sunday mornings watching him play for Bredon Star Rugby Club. My daughter is an accomplished rider, so we spend a lot of family time at the stables, or proudly watching her compete in One Day Events with her horse, Pedro. In the quieter moments, I enjoy fly-fishing, although I’m usually outwitted by brown trout. I also like music. I’m a reasonable pianist, but progress in trying to teach myself the guitar is disappointingly slow!