Lives of the fellows

Victor William Michael (Sir) Drury

b.5 August 1926 d.11 June 2014
Kt(1989) OBE(1978) MB ChB Birm(1949) MRCS LRCP(1949) MRCGP(1963) FRCGP(1970) FRCP(1988) FRACGP(1988) Hon FRCPCH(1996)

Sir Michael Drury was one of the medical leaders of his generation and made important contributions to the organisation of general practice, the University of Birmingham, the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and Age Concern.

He was born in Birmingham, the son of George Leslie Drury, a company director, and Beatrice Drury. He was educated at Bromsgrove School and then studied medicine at Birmingham University. He qualified in 1949, was a house surgeon at Birmingham General Hospital and a resident surgical officer at Kidderminster, and then joined the Royal Army Medical Corps as a major.

In 1953 he went into general practice in Bromsgrove. He developed an interest in how general practice could be better managed and in particular the role of colleagues in the then emerging primary health care team. He wrote The medical secretary’s handbook, etc (London, Baillière, Tindall & Cassell, 1965), which went into six editions, followed by The new practice manager (Oxford, Radcliffe Medical, 1990), which went into three editions. He was elected chairman of the practice organisation committee of the Royal College of General Practitioners, which facilitated a whole raft of new ideas.

In 1970 Michael Drury became the first academic GP appointed to the staff of the University of Birmingham as a ‘clinical tutor’. He was appointed to a personal chair in 1980, as the first professor of general practice in Birmingham. As such he was one of a small group of general practitioners who joined the staff of their local universities and went on to gain inaugural chairs in general practice. The Birmingham department of general practice reflected Drury’s interest in practice organisation; with Barbara Stilwell he co-wrote a series of important articles on the role of the nurse practitioner in general practice. He showed that he was a facilitative leader and attracted able juniors. After his retirement, Birmingham was one of the first universities to have three professors of general practice.

The years 1983 to 1988 proved a turning point in his career. He delivered the 1983 James Mackenzie lecture of the Royal College of General Practitioners and the next year was appointed as a civilian adviser in general practice to the Army. He was elected, in a national vote of all registered medical practitioners in England, to the General Medical Council, and was re-elected five years later for a second five-year term.

In 1985 he was elected president of the Royal College of General Practitioners by the council. In this high-profile, ceremonial role, which he held for three years, he revealed that he was an outstanding after-dinner speaker, his wit doing his College much good. However, the ceremonial role was shattered in 1986, when the RCGP underwent the biggest organisational crisis in its history. The then chairman of council, supported only by the College officers, sacked the chief examiner. Uproar ensued as the 125-strong body of the RCGP examiners reacted vigorously. Increasingly uncomfortable meetings of the College’s council executive and the council, both chaired by the chairman of council, were inconclusive, as many thought there should have been consultation. The annual general meeting in November 1986 included a censure motion against the chairman and officers from the Yorkshire faculty and was chaired by Drury as president. It was unlike any AGM at that College before or since, with amendments requiring legal advice. The censure motion did not pass. Michael Drury, in the eye of the storm, enhanced the presidency with his chairmanship. The meeting over-ran the booked time for the hall, and for the College as a whole resolution was not achieved. Within days, in the council executive, the chairman of council handed over to a colleague the drafting of the College’s response to a Government policy paper. As president, Drury telephoned all the members of the council executive and with the vice chairman of council, Robin Steel, a fellow Midlander, led a ‘wise men’ deputation in January 1987. The chairman of council resigned and Drury led an internal College inquiry.

His stature in the medical profession was such that he was elected as the first GP vice chairman of the Conference of medical Royal Colleges and their Faculties by the presidents of the specialist medical Royal Colleges. He served from 1987 to 1988. The RCGP sent a small team in 1988 to visit the Hong Kong College of General Practitioners and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), giving lectures to both. In Australia, Drury was awarded an honorary fellowship of the RACGP.

In 1978 he was appointed an OBE, and in 1989 a knight batchelor. This was a time when virtually no academic GP was so recognised: there had only been one previous RCGP president honoured at this level, Dame Annis Gillie [Munk’s Roll, Vol.VIII, p.186], 21 years earlier. Michael Drury thus broke the glass ceiling for knights in academic general practice. Uniquely, at that time at Birmingham Medical School there were three presidents of medical Royal Colleges, who were all professors and had all been knighted – Drury, Sir Raymond Hoffenberg, a former president of the Royal College of Physicians, and Sir Geoffrey Slaney, a former president of the Royal College of Surgeons.

After Drury stood down from his presidency of the Royal College of General Practitioners, he served on the Standing Committee of Postgraduate Medical Education and the UK Centre for the Advancement of Interprofessional Education. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health awarded him its honorary fellowship in 1996.

Michael Drury played a major role in the charity Age Concern, spending much time supporting its national policies. He was chairman from 1992 to 1995 and thereafter vice president. He also worked in medical negligence as a GP expert witness, editing a book on this topic in 2000 (Clinical negligence in general practice (Abingdon, Radcliffe Medical).

He was very much a family man and took great pleasure in his family.

Michael Drury was big man: in stature, in presence, and in energy and wit. He enhanced the standing of general practice and his death is a big loss. He died of cancer, aged 86. He was survived by his wife, Joan (née Williamson), to whom he had been married for 64 years, their four children (Mark, Linda, Simon and James) and five grandchildren.

Sir Denis Pereira Gray

[British Journal of General Practice 1 August 2014 http://bjgp.org/content/64/625/410 – accessed 29 June 2015]

(Volume XII, page web)

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