How did UK medicine get on in the 2019 New Year’s Honours list?

The honours system is like the curate’s egg – good in parts and rotten in others – but people try to speak well of it anyway.  To the extent that it is a political patronage system that gives politicians yet another route for buying and rewarding support, it shows the worst of the British class system.  Yet many of the awards are the result of careful thought and reflect a collective will to recognise worthwhile achievement.  Although the army and civil service are always over-represented and sports personalities get a disproportionate press coverage, medicine and medical research is highlighted in the 2019 New Year’s Honours list.  Front-line doctors don’t do especially well compared to medical administrators and researchers who are more noticeable.

Looking at the knighthoods – which are at the apex of the honours hierarchy – award winners for January 2019 included about a dozen medically-related knighthoods including – Donald Brydon the chair of the medical research council, Jeremy Farrar who directs the Welcome Trust and Melvyn Greaves who works on Cancer and childhood Leukaemia.  But there were also gongs and titles for David Klenerman for speed DNA sequencing techniques and Michael Ferguson who directs research strategy at the University of Dundee.  Not surprisingly administrators proved attractive to other administrators with many NHS Trust directors being recognised, such as the knighthood for James Mackey of the Northumbria NHS Foundation Trust.   Even medical law and ethics got a shout with a gong for Jonathan Montgomery of UCL healthcare law.

In medicine women didn’t do well this year which was in contrast to the overall list of 1,148 awards where about 47% were of the female persuasion, though the bulk of these were in the lower orders (MBEs) rather than knighthood or equivalents.  Exceptions to this observation were Marianne Griffiths, Chief Executive of the West Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Anne Robinson, of Newcastle University, for services to primary care.  The private sector in medicine doesn’t get much of a look-in compared to those in safe government jobs – a nice exception is Donald Cameron’s Cameron’s Optometry company for eye care services in Scotland.

Looking down the list you can’t help noticing some disappointing patterns, however deserving the actual recipients are – mental health continues to be the poor relation to physical health and innovative approaches struggle to get recognition.  The awards continue to go to those who are already well paid for their efforts such as leaders of health trusts rather than outstanding nurses or cleaners or those setting up small new initiatives.  However, the lower orders of the list (OBEs and MBEs) reflect Theresa May’s request that more awards be given to those who work with children and young people. 

In terms of awards which jump out of the list are David Bragg’s charity “Send a cow” for poverty in Africa and the Impressively alliterative initials of Iain McInnes’s Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation (in Glasgow).

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