Vale RACGP President Dr Harry Nespolon
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners President Dr Harry Nespolon has passed away following a nine month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 57.
The RACGP Board, on behalf of all members and staff, has extended its deepest condolences to his partner Lindy, children Ella and Hannah, as well as his many friends and colleagues.
Dr Nespolon was elected RACGP President in July 2018 promising to bring about significant reforms and “make life better for our members”. He succeeded on both fronts.
RACGP Board Chair Christine Nixon said despite his deteriorating health Dr Nespolon was able to achieve so much.
“The RACGP Board is in awe of everything Harry has been able to achieve, particularly over the last seven months. The RACGP and general practice was a huge part of his life and he gave so much of himself to advocating for the central role of general practice to the health of Australians.”
RACGP Vice President A/Professor Ayman Shenouda said the RACGP would honour Dr Nespolon’s legacy.
“I have the highest respect for Harry and everything he was able to achieve for the general practice community. We will find a way to honour his work and advocacy in the coming months.
“We will do all we can to support his family at this difficult time.”
Throughout the summer’s bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic Dr Nespolon rose to the occasion to speak out on behalf of members and ensure GPs on the frontline of these twin health crises were not forgotten.
His strong advocacy led to general practice securing half a billion dollars to fight the pandemic including the opening up of telehealth and telephone Medicare Benefits Schedule items to all Australian patients and doubling the bulk-billing incentive for GPs.
As the pandemic dragged on and the community grew increasingly anxious, Dr Nespolon’s reassuring and familiar presence on our television screens, radio news bulletins and in newspaper articles grew day by day.
His message was straightforward and compelling – don’t take GPs for granted and make sure they have the resources and support they need to get the job done and help Australian patients.
Dr Nespolon asked all of us to thank not only GPs but also hardworking general practice staff including nurses, receptionists and administrative workers. He also called on the community to work together to combat the spread of the pandemic and urged people to reach out and seek help if they had concerns about their mental health.
A well respected and accomplished leader, Dr Nespolon achieved many long sought after objectives during his two year tenure. This included removing PLAN, reforming continuing professional development, ending the Medicare rebate freeze and improving support systems for new and experienced GPs.
Right to the very end Dr Nespolon fought for what he believed in and never took a step back.
He strived to end GP mandatory reporting and warned that government funding must keep pace with the cost of general practice providing world-class care.
Prior to his term as President, Dr Nespolon enjoyed a long and varied career. He was a well-respected GP and the principal of three general practice clinics in Sydney.
Speaking at the RACGP conference last year in Adelaide, Dr Nespolon reflected on his working life in general practice.
“I cannot think of another profession where you can so clearly see the impact your work is having on people in your community. People you have come to know and respect and trust,” he said.
“We guide people through challenging periods of their lives when mental health challenges emerge and all seems lost. It’s so gratifying to help someone respond positively to health problems.
“To see them flourish and make the most of their lives at work, on the sporting field and with their friends and family.”
A member of numerous boards and committees including the Northern Sydney Local Health District, Dr Nespolon also worked as an RACGP examiner and was a representative on the Code of Conduct Committee for Medicines Australia for more than 10 years.
But his ambitions were not limited to medicine. While still practising as a GP, he completed a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Bachelor of Economics and Bachelor of Laws (Honours) and a Master of Health Law.
In a message due to feature in this year’s RACGP annual report Dr Nespolon signed off by thanking members and staff.
“It has been demanding but successful 12 months for our organisation. I hope that when we reflect on the arduous journey we are taking that we look back on this period as a source of inspiration and pride. I believe it is the beginning of new era for the RACGP.
“Our patients will not easily forget that when they were at their most anxious and forced to socially isolate from loved ones that their GP was there for them every step of the way. We will continue to do so because it is what we do.
“It has been an honour to serve as your President over the last two years. I would like to acknowledge the support of members who have provided their expert advice and encouragement.
“I am leaving this post at an uncertain time when we cannot be sure what path this pandemic will take. However, what I am sure of is that the RACGP will fight for our members and that our GPs will continue to provide world class care to our patients.
“To the entire RACGP team, GPs and general practice staff including nurses, receptionists and administrative employees – thank you and keep up the great work.”
In the final months of his Presidency when the pace of work never abated and the demands on his time and energy only grew, Dr Nespolon fought on.
He never complained and took advantage of every opportunity to remind Australians of the importance of consulting with their GP for any health concerns.
Dr Nespolon was a giant of general practice.
We have lost a great friend, advocate and mentor, who worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of the profession of general practice and Australia’s 41,000 GPs.
However, many of the patients he cared for live on and he leaves the RACGP – and the general practice profession – in a better position than before he commenced as President.
As RACGP President, a partner, a father to two children and a GP, he leaves a lasting legacy.
Spirited, sharp-minded and indefatigable to the very end, Dr Nespolon will not be forgotten by those who worked alongside him.
Goodbye Harry, you will be missed.
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