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Obituary: The College of Medicine pays tribute to former Head of Communications Pat Goodall

Posted by Dr Michael Dixon, College of Medicine Chair

‘It is with great sadness that we have to report that Pat Goodall died over Christmas. She was Head of Communications for the College of Medicine in its early years and, for many years, Head of Communications for NHS Alliance.

Pat was extraordinary in every respect. She had no equal when it came to having an instinct for a good story or her abilities in writing it up in a way that would always be noticed by the press.

It was her talented daughter, Kaye McIntosh, working for the Health Service Journal at the time, who introduced me to Pat as a potential press officer in the early days of NHS Alliance.

Former College of Medicine Head of Communications Pat Goodall

Her ability and wisdom were quickly put to the test with the publication of our first NHS Alliance document in 2000 “Implementing the Vison – Maintaining the Values”. 

Pat ensured, as ever, that I was able to launch this work on BBC’s Today Programme… but there was a twist.  Within the discussion paper, we suggested a separation between the NHS as service provider and Government as commissioner. 

We discussed this proposal with the Health Minister at the time, who provided a foreword. However, at 10pm on the night before publication, his deputy phoned me at home requesting that the foreword be removed from every one of the 4,000 printed documents. 

This gave journalist John Humphreys a field day and the press generally for some days thereafter. Despite my extreme discomfort, Pat quickly recognised the opportunities and guided me from studio to studio and journalist to journalist providing much-needed advice and moral support and always ensuring that I had a cup of tea. 

The irony of this debacle, of course, was that a number of think-tanks later proposed the same idea and it was finally realised, though not exactly as we had suggested, with the creation of NHS England some years later.

Apart from being a brilliant press officer, Pat was a wise tutor to many of us new to the mass media.  She taught myself and several colleagues to treat the press with respect and her words still echo in my mind whenever I do interviews: “Remember that you know more about your subject than the interviewer”, “make sure you tell stories” and “don’t use jargon”.

Pat had strong values and firm principles.  She could be critical, when she felt that myself or the organisation were making compromises in order to maintain close relations with government or senior managers. 

In retrospect, she was right and she certainly did encourage me to be a little more courageous than I might otherwise have been. She was always a supporter of the underdog and, behind the scenes, has been a friend, support and mentor to many clinicians, who have suffered the consequences of confronting the medical establishment.

Her clear sense of justice led to many heated debates, particularly when our values were being challenged but pragmatism seemed an easier option. The launch document for the College of Medicine at its inception in 2010 was very much Pat’s work. 

It is a brilliantly-written and characteristically fierce critique of where the current medical paradigm is leading us with a clear story about how things need to change. Her thinking and her writing underpinned the creation and early development of the College of Medicine and for this we owe her a great debt of gratitude. 

She was a ‘one-off’ and an early leader of the open-minded, inclusive and sometimes anarchic mission of today’s College.’

Dr Michael Dixon

Michael Dixon is a GP and National Clinical Lead for Social Prescription (NHS England), as well as being Chairman of the College of Medicine. Dr Dixon has been appointed as a government advisor on GP commissioning. Dr Dixon is a strong advocate of preventative medicine, healthy living and integrated care. In his Devon practice, patients are able to directly access a range of health check and self-help initiatives; emergency and maternity services; NHS community services including podiatry and physiotherapy and, for certain patients and certain conditions, complementary therapies. The philosophy is to help patients keep well instead of waiting until they are sick before helping them. Its success is demonstrated by the practice’s low referral rates and high scores on all performance indicators. Dr Dixon is also Visiting Professor at the University of Westminster; Honorary Senior Fellow in Public Policy at the Health Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham; and Honorary Senior Lecturer in Integrated Health at the Peninsula Medical School. He is also a Senior Associate at the King’s Fund where he is a member of the Steering Group of the Inquiry into quality of GP care.