Greg Cairns obituary

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In late March our colleague Greg Cairns passed away suddenly and unexpectedly after a short illness.

On behalf of all of his colleagues at Londonwide LMCs, our thoughts and condolences go to his family.

Greg joined Londonwide LMCs in June 2009 as Director of Primary Care. He worked across a number of teams within Londonwide LMCs, and many working in general practice across London will have known him for longer through his earlier NHS commissioning roles. One London colleague reflects: “He had an encyclopaedic knowledge and understanding of primary care, he was shrewd, pragmatic, diplomatic, politic, and wise. He also had a great and mischievous sense of humour, something I related to. Greg wouldn’t have known how much I valued his opinion and steer, but I will always be grateful to him.”  

Embedded in Northeast London general practice for over 14 years, Greg was a highly valued member of the Londonwide LMCs team, providing support to GPs and their teams. Whilst he was widely respected for his insight, intelligence and analysis, we will miss Greg for far more than his ability to distil complex documents at short notice, or to navigate the ever changing waters of London healthcare’s commissioning and political waters.

One London GP shares: “Greg was someone I absolutely admired and loved working with. He was for me everything that is good about the LMC. Wise, passionate and such a strong advocate for the NHS. If there was a question that needing answering, he knew the answer. He was always measured, fair and was never frightened to challenge when things needed challenging. I feel so privileged to have worked with him and so sad that I’ll not be working with him again.”

Another reflects: “He was one of those people who one knew would keep calm (and perhaps make a dryly humorous observation) when everything was falling down around. A sceptic of easily spoken words or promises he measured things by solid actions. He had so much experience in his field that if one wanted to know how things really stood, one had to get it from Greg. He was honest, dependable, hard working. Although not an effusive person, his solid inward determination and commitment to achieve the best possible outcomes for the people he served and those he worked with was obvious. He also understood that a well served workforce resulted in well served patients. He fought for both. I am terribly sad that he has gone. General practice has lost such a wise friend and guide.” 

A tenacious and hard-working colleague who was always good humoured, his commitment to Londonwide LMCs, general practice, GPs and practice staff will long be remembered and greatly missed. Amongst the tributes to his dedication, colleagues share that: “Greg’s greatest strength was his ability to connect with people and this was utilised to the benefit of GPs and practices, be it to assist a practice or work alongside the NHS management teams in trying to get an outcome that would better support practices. He was quick to give people an honest unbiased view and stand up for those who felt unable to stand up for themselves.” Another adds: “I appreciated his pragmatic, honest feedback and guidance in terms of navigating primary care.” And: “What Greg didn’t know about primary care, wasn’t worth knowing.”  

Greg was not only a core part of Londonwide LMCs primary care team, but also a leader in the widest sense and someone that was liked and respected by all. His focus day to day was to get on with doing the job and trying to improve things for general practice so that practices could support their patients. A commitment that many have commented on: “You were a rock on which we built our strength.  We achieved so much in East London, for GPs, but most especially for patients.  Whether if was fighting against cuts, negotiating our local contracts or supporting practices or GPs in difficulties, you were there, quiet, solid, and with your friendly smile. Thanks so much for all your support.”, and: “He was quick to help when any of us needed it and unflinching in his loyalty to general practice. Quite simply he is irreplaceable.”.  One of the more recent LMCs to work with Greg has shared: “Greg was a true gentleman and offered much support and sound words of advice to Southwark LMC and we are grateful for the dedication he showed in supporting general practice. He worked tirelessly to make general practice a better and sustainable place and was always approachable and on hand to offer wisdom and support on any issue. He will be greatly missed.” 

Greg was also respected by the wider NHS system. Indeed, NHS managers “on the other side of the fence” were also supported by him. One has shared that when she was more junior, she would often walk back to the station with Greg after a meeting had concluded and during those walks he would listen to the problems she was experiencing and help her better understand the NHS system and ways of working which helped her progress in her career. Whilst an LMC officer recalls: “Greg was a kind and clever man whose wit and wealth of knowledge made him an integral part of our team. I’m especially grateful for his guidance in helping me develop as a Chair for the LMC and his presence will be sorely missed.” That is the measure of the man – supporting others, and helping them to improve and develop. Being generous with his knowledge and expertise. Being kind. Greg was all about the personal touch. Nothing was too much trouble and he always had time to chat football or ask after family, making sure people felt seen, listened to and understood. One London GP reflects: “He was a trusted and knowledgeable colleague, who was always willing to listen and take a fair and balanced approach. I found him to have a good sense of humour which always helped when dealing with challenging issues.” 

On the day that we learned about Greg’s passing, there was a large meeting of NHS primary care managers and directors and significant numbers of GPs. Their expression of grief, and the impromptu two-minute silence they observed as a result, highlight the high esteem in which Greg was held by his colleagues and peers. One shares: “Greg was kind and gentle; he was honest and brave. He helped so many of us, quietly, compassionately, patiently, with empathy and understanding.  He understood people and he genuinely cared about others. Over the past ten years Greg was my mentor, my colleague and my friend. I will miss him very much, I know we all will.  My sincere and heartfelt condolences to Greg’s family and friends.” 

Foremost of all in the messages we received, as we reflect on the time spent with Greg as colleagues over the years, was his humanity, humour, and humility: “I will miss being able to seek his advice, guidance and support; I will miss laughing with him. He was a good man, and I will remember him with great affection. Thank you Greg for all you have done over the years for primary care in North East London.” and “You had been a pillar for Newham for so many years and we are going to miss your insights and your focus always on unity and the bigger picture and doing the right thing. Sincerest condolences to the family. On a personal level am going to miss your support, wisdom, kindness and mentorship.”  

GP colleagues also reflect: “Greg accepted us all as we were, whatever we could give, and he was 100% devoted to the cause of the LMC supporting primary care. Greg your care for others shone through and the world has lost a light.”; “He will be sorely missed but very fondly remembered by those who had had the luck to know him.”, and finally; “Greg was always good fun at meetings and had enjoyed a joke. He knew his stuff and had a strong moral compass.  London general practice has lost a good friend.” 

These reflections and others have been shared directly with the family in the form of a condolence book compiled from the messages which were received from within and with-out the organisation. 

RIP Greg Cairns 

8 April 1959 to 20 March 2023