Obituary: Sir Sandy Macara; charismatic voice for the medical profession was a fervent upholder of the NHS
Sir Sandy Macara, BMA chairman. Born: 4 May, 1932, in Irvine. Died: 21 June, 2012, in Bristol, aged 80.
WHen Sandy Macara became chairman of the British Medical Association in 1993 the association was in conflict with the Thatcher government over funding and management techniques. The profession needed a more persuasive and charismatic leader and in Macara they got a fervent upholder of the NHS.
He put his cards firmly on the table in his first speech to the BMA conference in which he spoke vehemently against the government’s reforms for the NHS, calling many of the proposals regarding the internal market as an “uncontrolled monster”. It was typical of this mild-mannered, courteous and passionate man that he maintained the goodwill of the profession and politicians who both recognised his scholarship and experience.
Tony Blair was to receive no easier a ride. In April 1997, when his government initially refused a promised increase to the NHS budget Macara called its actions “frankly, pathetic”.
Alexander Wiseman Macara was the son of the manse. Both his father, the Reverend Alec Macara, Irvine Old Parish Church’s longest serving minister, and grandfather were ministers of the Kirk. Macara always maintained that the open house his father kept at the manse made him “public property” and that sense of community welfare was to remain with him all his life.
At the age of six, Macara contacted paratyphoid fever, acute appendicitis and whooping cough and was nursed back to health over six years by a doctor in Irvine. His health was further impaired and he spoke with a distinct stammer in his youth.
He was a star pupil at Irvine Royal Academy and then read medicine at Glasgow University. Macara became involved in university politics and was on local Tory Party committees. In 1957, Macara sat on the Tories’ national committee that voted for Harold Macmillan succeeding Sir Anthony Eden as prime minister.
Macara went south to do postgraduate research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. In 1963, he moved to Bristol University as lecturer in public health, a post he filled with much dignity while campaigning ceaselessly on numerous public health issues. Although he retired officially in 1997, Macara raised the profile of the campaign against smoking by his informed arguments of its connection with cancer.
He fought for smoking to be banned in public places and, as an former smoker, spoke with an understanding compassion about the problems of giving up tobacco. One of his students, Sir Liam Donaldson, was chief medical officer for England and instrumental in instituting the ban on smoking in public. As recently as 2009, Macara called for the MMR vaccine to be made compulsory.
Macara was an articulate voice for the profession when he served, for seven years, as chairman of the BMA’s ethics committee from 1982. It was that ease of manner and his ability to marshal an argument that, perhaps, led to Macara in 1993 becoming the chairman at the BMA. The association was disenchanted with his more traditional predecessor, Jeremy Lee-Potter, whose reaction to the Tories’ market-led statistics was not popular with GPs.
Macara, who maintained a definite Scottish lilt to his voice all his life, accused the government of adopting a “politically inspired mission” to wreck the health service. But through his passionate campaigning and reasoned argument, politicians listened to Macara. They respected the breadth of his knowledge of the profession and his diagnosis of the problems the NHS faced. Even in the most lengthy and exhausting meetings Macara maintained, one colleague recalls, “a wisdom and an effusive wit that made meetings an absolute pleasure. He was a valiant and fearless guardian of the health rights of the deprived and the dispossessed.”
Macara remained an enthusiastic Scot as was evidenced in 1996, when he was invited to become an honorary member of the Irvine Burns Club. He replied: “Thank you very much for the kind invitation to accept nomination for honorary membership of the Irvine Burns Club. I am honoured and delighted to accept, especially as I was privileged to be brought up in the Old Parish Manse and inculcated in a love of Burns (and poetry generally) by my father, who greatly valued his long and happy association with the club.”
Macara retained an informal and generous manner all his life. He made an irritated, impatient wave of his hands if anyone called him “Sir Sandy”.
Macara, who was knighted in 1998, was a consultant to the World Health Organisation and president of the National Heart Forum. He lived in the Bristol area and was a keen gardener – with a particular attention to the growing of asparagus – and acted as an elder in his local United Reformed church.
Macara is survived by his wife, Sylvia, and by their son and daughter.
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