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PROFILE: Gregor Smith – the doctor stepping into the gap left by Catherine Calderwood’s resignation

The new interim CMO, Dr Gregor Smith.
The new interim CMO, Dr Gregor Smith.

The enforced departure of Dr Catherine Calderwood has thrust Dr Gregor Smith into the spotlight following his appointment as interim Chief Medical Officer.

Dr Smith, a former GP with a passion for person-centred care and heavy metal music, finds himself in an incredibly high-profile job despite not being someone who has sought attention.

Before his unexpected promotion was triggered by Dr Calderwood’s resignation, his career had progressed from being a Lanarkshire GP to becoming a primary care medical director then ending up in the Scottish Government.

“He has kept himself under the radar, as many people in health administration do. But that’s all about to change,” said one politician who has dealt with him.

Four years after his 1994 graduation from Glasgow University, he joined a GP practice in Larkhall, the commuter town near Glasgow.

This was a formative experience. Between five doctors there were 10,500 patients on their list. A typical Monday morning would see him have 60 patient consultations.

It was an innovative practice – the first in Scotland to have paperless patient records, something it introduced in 1999. It also included a physiotherapist and a psychologist – an unusual development for that period.

Bringing together their different skills in a GP setting is something that Dr Smith believed was hugely beneficial for both patients and doctors and has influenced his thinking on primary care.

In 2006 he took his first steps in medical management and in 2008 he became medical director for primary care in NHS Lanarkshire, where he was ultimately responsible for the care of around half a million patients.

In 2012 he became a senior medical officer in the Scottish Government, where one of his first jobs was to deal with the GP contract.

An advocate of ‘realistic’ medicine

A passionate advocate of primary care, he led the development of a new quality framework for general practice in Scotland. He has also been involved in so-called “realistic medicine”, which builds a personal approach to care and was closely associated with Dr Calderwood.

A softly spoken individual with a quiet sense of humour, his professional hero is Don Berwick, the American paediatrician who was put in charge of the federal agency overseeing Medicare and Medicaid by President Barack Obama.

Outside of work, his entertaining twitter account reveals that his heroes include the heavy metal group Iron Maiden and the rock musician Dave Grohl.

His interest in music extends to playing the guitar, although modestly he doesn’t claim any great expertise. He also cycles and is an amateur triathlete.

His twitter account is not just about music. It has made thought provoking reading during the coronavirus, including a tweet of a soldier carrying a donkey through a mine field.

The moral of the picture was that “during difficult times the first ones you have to keep under control are the jackasses who don’t understand the danger and do as they please”.

It was perhaps unfortunate timing that shortly after he posted the tweet, it was revealed that Dr Calderwood, his former boss, had disobeyed her own stay at home guidance and spent two weekends with her family at her Earlsferry holiday house.

As well as being interim Chief Medical Officer, Dr Smith is an Honorary Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Glasgow and Fellow of both the Scottish Patient Safety Programme and Salzburg Global.

In his biographical blurb, it states that he is “passionate about continuous quality improvement and innovation in healthcare, with a particular interest in person-centred care, shared decision making and working in teams.”

It adds: “He is a resolute advocate of the values that define our NHS, of universal healthcare, and of widening access to medical careers to those from all backgrounds.”

What it doesn’t say is that his favourite quotation comes from Henry Ford, the American industrialist and motor entrepreneur.

“Don’t find fault, find a remedy. Anyone can complain,” was Ford’s mantra – sound advice in these testing times.