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President's update: May 2019


I am not sure if it is apocryphal or not, and I am sure film buffs amongst our members will set me straight, but I seem to remember a cliché of gritty northern realist films of my childhood that at some point a character in a cloth cap would enter stage right to announce in a Northern accent that there was “trouble at t’mill.”

Well, we have been having a little trouble of our own recently. But I am glad to say that this seems to be coming to an end.  Our new Chief Executive, Michele Acton, is taking up her post on 20 May. A period of change and occasional confusion in our Directors is drawing to a close, and a new team will soon be created. It’s a good time to thank Nigel Collett, who has been acting CEO during this time of turbulence. I am delighted to say he will be staying with us to provide much-needed continuity and resuming his normal role of Director of Commercial Services. And the Golden Law of IT, which states that no IT Project ever is without problems, has reasserted itself after what we thought was a smooth transition to our new website, by giving us back-office problems. But again, these are getting sorted, as are the hiccups some of the Sections have been experiencing with meetings recently.

And there is one more change to relate. We are about to elect the next President to replace me next year. We do have an odd process of choosing our Presidents – if you were about to say my presence is living proof of that, keep it to yourself. As I write this blog, we haven’t chosen that person yet, but I predict it will be a surgeon. Does this make me Nostradamus? No, it’s just that the three candidates are all surgeons. I am pleased to say that all three are papabile, as the Vatican says, and whoever wins the secret ballot of the Trustees will be an excellent choice. But to elect the President of our Society on the vote of 0.001% of our membership seems to be archaic, and would bring a blush to the cheeks of even Kim Jong-un, so I am relieved that this will the last time that we will use this system. Next time the President will be elected by all the members. That means you.

So from the back to the front of the house. It’s a busy time. First off we have one of our endowed lectures, the Stevens Lecture. I decided to see if there was anyone suitable called Stevens to deliver it, liking the idea of a Stevens giving the Stevens Lecture. Imagine my surprise when Google revealed that the Chief Executive of the NHS has exactly that name. Who knew? A full house and fascinating evening is guaranteed with Simon Stevens on Monday 20 May.

A great start but more to come. In the last couple of years we have become no strangers to Royalty at the RSM. We have had the young Royals – the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on separate occasions. We have had scientific Royalty – no less than the late Stephen Hawking. And the current king of book royalties - Adam Kay, still top of the best-seller list with This is Going to Hurt. But I can find no evidence that we have ever hosted the Secretary of State for Health. Well, no longer. The Rt Hon Matt Hancock will be giving the Jepchott Lecture on Thursday 6 June - the 75th anniversary of D Day. Quite how he will work that in I don’t know, but he’s a resourceful chap.

But we are a broad church at the RSM. And so I will be in conversation with the veteran film maker Ken Loach on Wednesday 19 June. Now I don’t think any of his characters have ever said “there’s trouble at mill” in a Yorkshire accent. But he has given us an extraordinary canon of classics. I can just about remember Cathy Come Home but vividly remember Kes. If he had done nothing else, that would be sufficient to justify his reputation, but I will also pull Chair’s rank to ensure we can discuss my obsession with the Spanish Civil War and hence Land and Freedom, and his most recent classic, I Daniel Blake.

But I hear you say, three white males in succession? Fear not, because on Friday 28 June our guests will be none other than Dr Sarah Wollaston and Dame Sally Davies. One has bid farewell to her political party only to start a new one, whilst remaining the most influential and respected chair of the Health Select Committee in modern memory. The other will soon be bidding farewell to being England’s Top Doctor to become the first female Master of Trinity College Cambridge. What a conversation that will be.

A great couple of months are in store – book early to avoid disappointment. And with that cast list, I think I can conclude that there is no trouble at our mill.


Professor Sir Simon Wessely

RSM President

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