Parting words after 30 years' service

MDDUS chairman Dr Alistair Beattie has stepped down after three decades of loyal service. He tells Summons of the changes he has seen and his thoughts on the future of medico-legal practice 

OVER the course of 30 years’ service to MDDUS, one of the most important skills Dr Alistair Beattie has learned is how to adapt and change with the times.

The Union was a very different place when Dr Beattie first took up a position on the board in 1981 at the tender age of 39. Then, he worked as a consultant physician and gastroenterologist at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow and was a “member of council” at MDDUS before becoming treasurer in 1985, assuming the additional role of vice chairman in 1996. In 2002, having retired from full-time medical practice, he was elected MDDUS board chairman and remained in that post until stepping down in September aged 70.

When Dr Beattie first joined the MDDUS board, the Union occupied a small fifth floor office and employed only a handful of medical and dental advisers. The caseload was much lower then and it was the responsibility of the board members to decide which cases would be settled and which defended. In contrast, the Union today has offices in Glasgow and London with a greatly increased team of medical and dental advisers, as well as its own in-house legal team and employment law advice service.

Dr Beattie recalls: “The Union is very different now. When I first started all board members were doctors and dentists and the average age must have been around 80. Since then, that average age has come down considerably and it’s made the board a lot livelier.

“We now also have board members from outside the medical and dental professions which has introduced a valuable, broader range of skills. Our discussions now are largely business-related rather than focusing on clinical cases. I have had to learn quite a bit about corporate governance which is a challenge I have relished, and board members also now work in consultation with our team of actuaries and experts who advise on areas such as investments.”

The volume of cases handled by MDDUS has risen enormously in the past 30 years, which Dr Beattie believes is partly due to society becoming increasingly litigious. He also attributes the rise to advances in medical technology which have naturally increased patient expectations.

He says: “So much more can be done nowadays to treat illness or disease that could not be done in the past, for example the development of coronary angiography and bypass. Patients expect much more from their doctor or dentist which makes complaints more likely. Combine this with the rising number of ‘no win no fee’ firms and that increases the likelihood of litigation further.”

Despite the trend towards increasingly aggressive litigation and complaints against healthcare professionals, Dr Beattie remains optimistic about the future.

“At the core it will always be a relationship between a patient and a doctor or dentist and in the vast majority of cases that’s a relationship of mutual respect and a desire to help,” he says.

One thing that hasn’t changed during Dr Beattie’s tenure is the Union’s commitment to providing a top quality service to members.

“The features that make MDDUS strong have remained constant,” he says. “For me, these include the ease of contact between member and adviser, the discretionary powers that allow the necessary flexibility to support members with a wide range of issues, our cautious and sensible approach to financial management and, of course, the excellent staff.”

Many at MDDUS would agree that Dr Beattie’s own input over the years has helped to greatly strengthen the Union. Chief executive Professor Gordon Dickson pays tribute to Dr Beattie’s invaluable years of service.

He says: “Alistair has been a member of this Union all his professional life and has served it in a number of capacities as director, treasurer and chairman for well over 30 years.

“Length of service is only one measure of a person’s contribution. The other is the nature of that service. Alistair has brought integrity, humour and good old fashioned common sense to the roles he has discharged. The Union is the stronger for his involvement and I will personally miss him greatly as a colleague.”

Dr Beattie is now looking forward to a slightly less demanding schedule that includes working with the Medical Council on Alcohol and fulfilling his role as chairman of the charity TENOVUS, which raises funds for medical research. He also expects to fit in a few more games of golf and spend more time with his wife (and fellow retired doctor) Gillian, his five children and eight grandchildren.

Dr Beattie says: “I have thoroughly enjoyed it over the years, especially the contact with all the people I have met and the wonderful MDDUS staff. It’s been a challenge to keep pace with all the changes that have come in over the past 30 years but it’s been a privilege and life has certainly never been dull.”

Profile by Joanne Curran, associate editor at MDDUS