Dr Gerald Michael

Enterprising GP who fought for use of generic drugs against Big Pharma pressure


The son and grandson of general practitioners, Gerald Michael, who has died aged 84, was the senior partner of Watling Medical Centre, a teaching general practice in north west London. In a fulfilling career spanning five decades he had a significant impact on improving prescribing practices in medicine, and he was an inspirational and well-respected teacher of aspiring GPs.

Gerald was involved with GP training for most of his career, as a trainer, course organiser and GP Tutor. He inspired the setting up of the Edgware GP Vocational Training Scheme in 1977, which expanded to include the Barnet Scheme and is now a thriving training programme. He encouraged reflective practice and always challenged those he taught. Generations of doctors were trained by him and his unique style will always be remembered. He was a mentor to many of his trainees, and indefatigably pushed for the highest standards of clinical care, communication skills and evidence-based medicine. He had a strong influence within his own surgery, promoting the use of computers as early as 1983, well before many other local practices.

Gerald campaigned to reduce the influence of large pharmaceutical companies on how medicines were prescribed. At a time when it was the norm to prescribe drugs by their brand name, he urged his practice and his trainees to prescribe drugs by their scientific or generic name. It was also commonplace for pharmaceutical companies to sponsor medical meetings in general practice and hospitals, sometimes providing lavish meals and gifts to doctors and even trips abroad. This was a strong and effective way of promoting and marketing brands of medicines which may have been nothing more than a glossy version of lesser known, but equally effective drugs. Gerald campaigned tirelessly to end this influence in the face of great resistance, but he persevered and was proud of the outcome, so that now, in most cases, generic prescribing is encouraged.

He continued his interest in promoting effective prescribing in the community into his 80s, repeatedly appealing to the prescribing lead at the Barnet Clinical Commissioning Group. His last campaign was to stop the dispensing of large quantities of drugs, mainly to elderly or vulnerable people, by pharmacies who were in the habit of supplying all items on a patient’s repeat prescription list, rather than those actually required. These medicines were often not needed and so ended up being stockpiled in kitchen cupboards, wasting a considerable amount of NHS funds.

Upon retirement in 2006 Gerald meticulously planned a complex three month driving tour of Europe, researching primary medical care across all member states of the European Union. He drove with his wife Wendy to every single capital city as far and wide as Helsinki to Valetta, inviting family and friends to join them at various points on the journey. In each city he interviewed a doctor, inviting them to describe in detail the state of general practice in their country, and he compared and contrasted it with that of the UK. He summarised his findings in a book entitled Travels of a Doctor, which alongside the fascinating differences in medical practices, also contained amusing anecdotes about the trip, including some hair-raising experiences with customs officials in Albania.

Gerald was born in Edgware, Middlesex in 1936 to Rose and George Michael. Upon leaving St Albans school he studied medicine at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, and went on to specialise in general practice. He married Wendy Coulson, whom he had met at a wedding in 1962, and they had three children, Lucy, Victoria and Jeremy, eight grandchildren and a great grandson. In 2002 he achieved the Fellowship by Assessment Award from the Royal College of General Practitioners, demonstrating the highest standards of patient care in his practice and recently, once retired, he studied philosophy and Victorian social history with the University of Oxford.

As well as being a keen educator of doctors, Gerald delighted in encouraging his family to push the boundaries of their knowledge. He was so astonished to learn that none of his grandchildren had read any literary classics that he dispatched a copy of Jane Eyre to each of them, with the request that they read the first 100 pages before giving up. As part of his quest to expand the knowledge of his children and grandchildren during the first coronavirus lockdown he set the family a daily quiz, delivered punctually by WhatsApp each evening at 10pm. He was never happier than when discussing his grandchildren’s school and university topics with them, and was absolutely thrilled to be asked to review and critique essays. Amongst his many hobbies he was a season ticket holder of Watford Football Club for 35 years, with his son Jeremy; he travelled the world to listen to opera – particularly Wagner – was an avid reader and had a keen interest in photography. He died suddenly on the second day of Rosh Hashanah. He was very proud to be Jewish, and belonged to Edgware United Synagogue where his father had been a founder-member. He is survived by Wendy, his children, grandchildren and great grandson.

Victoria Sterman

Dr Gerald Michael: born June 10, 1936. Died September 20, 2020

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive