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Sir Graeme Catto

Honorary Doctorate of Sciences


Graeme Catto is a true Scott, born in the City of Aberdeen and a follower of the Great Robert the Bruce, famed for his tenacity, pride and guardian of his heritage. Graeme's father was a physician, and he reared his family amidst the beauty of his native city, combining his love for the sea, the Granite City and acres of rolling countryside and lakes. There is no doubt that Graeme's childhood was idyllic, fostering a true sense of values, social justice and endeavour. Whilst at school at Robert Gordon's College, he discovered a fascination for history. He then moved on to win the first of many prizes - the school's Otaki Prize, which provided Graeme with the opportunity to travel to New Zealand, where he spent several months as guest of the New Zealand government. The return trip, on a passenger ship with four hundred and ninety-nine Australian nurses heralded his progress into medicine.

Whilst at Aberdeen University he married a law student, Joan, whom he had known at school. By the time he had entered his fifth year, this young enterprising student won his second prize, which took him to Chicago, where he studied comparative medicine and was immersed in a new world experience, characterised by urban deprivation, cultural diversity, gunshot wounds, stabbings, yet excellent medical practice. This chapter in Graeme's life marked a lifetime of interest and affiliation with American practitioners, and introduced him to privatised healthcare systems. He completed his medical education, having achieved no less than sixteen prizes for scholarship and professional application.

On August 1st 1969 he took his first post as House Officer with the Grampian Health Board, where he commenced his career in academic medicine by combining research with his clinical work in nephrology. 1975 found Graeme, his wife, son and daughter in Boston, following receipt of the award of a prestigious two year Harkness Fellowship and appointment as a Fellow in Medicine, Harvard University and Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston, USA . True to form, he immersed himself and his family within the local culture, enjoying the state highway, camping and becoming an accepted member of his local neighbourhood.

He rejected opportunities to remain in the United States and declared his preference to return to his native Scotland to work in renal medicine in Aberdeen. He progressed rapidly in his medical career – both clinically and academically, as a consultant, Senior Lecturer, Reader and then Professor of Medicine and Therapeutics. In 1988 he was appointed Medical Director of a major hospital at Foresterhill, then Vice-Chairman of the Aberdeen Royal Hospitals NHS Trust, Dean of the Medical School, Vice-Principal of the University of Aberdeen and, in 1997, Chief Scientist at the Scottish Office's Department of Health.

Despite these successes his claim to fame had yet to be realised. This came in the form of professional leadership and governance. Already an active Chairman of the Board of Governors at his old school, he was nominated for membership of the General Medical Council, which he joined in 1994, becoming Chairman of the Council's Education Committee in 1999 and a member of the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

By 2000, Graeme's regular trips to London proved to be irresistible, loosening (albeit temporarily) his commitment to his beloved Aberdeen. He was appointed as Dean of Guy's, King's College & St. Thomas' Hospitals' Medical & Dental School. He was also appointed Vice-Principal of King's College London, Professor of Medicine at University of London and subsequently Pro Vice-Chancellor (Medicine), University of London. If that was not enough he also accepted the position of Non-executive Director with Lambeth, Southwark & Lewisham Health Authority and its successor body – the SE London Strategic Health Authority. Graeme was mandated to represent the interests of the academic community in South-East London by his own King's College, Greenwich University and London South Bank University.

Despite excelling in these roles, Graeme had no desire to disrupt his family, so he became a cross-border commuter, reuniting with his wife Joan at weekends back in Aberdeen where she maintained a successful legal practice. So, by 2001 he was a man who could boast residence in no less than three properties: his family home in Aberdeen, a palatial country retreat set amidst the beauty of his native homeland in the highlands, and a London residence, adjacent to Lambeth Palace for his sojourns south of the border.

It was through Graeme's commitment and tenacious sponsorship that London South Bank University forged a close and privileged alliance with his Medical School, which led to the award of shared research project grants to support inter-professional learning and collaboration in the design of educational excellence in health care. It was through Graeme's encouragement that the two establishments progressed their partnership to be jointly awarded the status of London lead for the NHS University in 2004 – a major achievement at that time.

Then followed the accolade of his already prestigious career when Graeme, already Chairman of its Education Committee, accepted the Presidency of the General Medical Council, a position that he continues to hold today. He retired from his post at King's College and Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of London in 2005, to enable him to devote his time to the GMC and to return to his former Professorial post in Medicine at Aberdeen. The GMC is a statutory body, responsible to government but independent in its function. Through Graeme's stewardship and expert leadership, the Council has survived the political challenge of modernisation and emerged as a reformed organisation that is fit for purpose to govern and direct the medical profession as a pivotal influence in determining the health of our nation.

Graeme is an adept and skilful ambassador for his peers who is able to speak forthrightly with Ministers to enhance the cause of excellence in patient care, as well as to set and uphold the highest standards of excellence in the education and performance of his profession. He is constantly driving forward to ensure that the UK's health service occupies a premier poison on the world stage.

In doing so, Graeme is vehement that the GMC should exercise its public protection role and inspire patient confidence in practitioner competence. Indeed, he was a key expert witness to the Shipman Inquiry and advised subsequently on reform of professional conduct practices in partnership with the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence, of which he is a key member. His reforms include the implementation of revalidation procedures for medical practitioners, guidance on end of life care, radical reforms in both undergraduate and postgraduate medicine and the integration of lay members of the public into the Council, thus making it more transparent and accountable to the very people it serves.

Graeme has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of the art and science of medical practice, education, research and governance through a career that can only be described as being pioneering, innovative and exemplary. Over the past four decades he has worked tirelessly to widen his professional understanding in order to provide both the citizens of the United Kingdom, and his fellow professional colleagues with the benefit of his wisdom and experience. In this regard he has achieved international acclaim.

He has carried (with dignity and non self-effacement) a great measure of responsibility for providing a role model for professionals and lay advocates alike. His academic performance is no less impressive, having published over two hundred papers and engaging in active research in the investigation and management of renal disease, calcium metabolism and mechanisms of immune regulation in pregnancy and renal transplantation. 

In particular, he has concentrated on those developing areas likely to produce improvements in clinical practice, including investigations into disabling bone disease and transplant immunology, the optimum management of patients with end-stage renal failure, and more recently in stem cell research. In respect of the latter, Graeme assumed the role of Chair of the Scottish Stem Cell Network in May, this year. He also continues to regularly examine theses and referee papers for medical journals and grant applications to research councils and medical charities.

Professional and civil honours have also followed in due recognition of his achievements. He has been awarded no less then five honorary doctorates from UK Universities, Fellowship of King's College, London, Fellowship of five learned societies and the award of Knight Bachelor in 2002 for services to Medicine and Medical Education.

Graeme continues to be himself: clear, logical and decisive, assuredly capable and engaged in an array of professional and leisure, pursuits ranging from contributions to numerous committees and working groups, management of key positions locally and nationally and possesses a natural zest for life. He has appeared on the BBC's 'Any Questions' programme, is an accomplished orator and yet still finds time to enjoy his homeland and his family, proud to be the grandfather of twins and proud owner of two English setters.

Graeme Robertson Dawson Catto was awarded the Degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa, for his services and leadership in health education, his passionate advocacy of patient rights, stalwart custodian of public protection, reformer of professional education and training, and for his devotion to the provision of excellence in health care.

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