GPs want answers in CEO mystery sacking

Lynnette Hoffman

writer

Lynnette Hoffman

Managing Editor

Lynnette Hoffman

Majority of GPs want an extraordinary general meeting to find out why the RACGP’s CEO was sacked

Three quarters of GPs say the College should hold an extraordinary general meeting to explain why Paul Wappett was outsed without warning, and what the subsequent plans are, a Healthed survey has found.

More than two weeks after then RACGP CEO Paul Wappett was sacked without warning, the College has divulged almost no details on the matter.

RACGP Board Chair Dr Lara Roeske announced Wappett’s sudden departure last month, but has given no public explanation for the decision.

The silence and opaqueness has left GPs in the dark.

Just 16% say the RACGP has given enough information to its members.

But while the College isn’t talking, Paul Wappett is.

Here is his full statement, first published on 11 December, 2023.

Statement from Paul Wappett

Because the Board of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) has communicated the news of my departure from the RACGP in what I believe to be a misleading way, I am taking the decision to set the record straight in order to protect my professional reputation.

On Tuesday 28 November 2023, the Chair of the RACGP Board, Dr Lara Roeske, terminated my employment as CEO of the RACGP with immediate effect.

Dr Roeske told me explicitly that the decision was not linked to my performance or any disciplinary issue, but she declined to provide any further explanation other than to say the Board had unanimously determined I was not the right person to lead the RACGP into the future.

Dr Roeske had within the last two months communicated to me that the Board had reviewed my performance for the 2022-2023 year as having met objectives and had approved the payment of a bonus for achievement against performance measures set by the Board.

I accept the Board had the right under the terms of my Employment Contract to terminate my employment for no reason and to elect to pay out the notice period set out in that Contract, and I accept that it is the prerogative of the Board to determine who it wants to lead the College.

Clearly, I’m disappointed by the decision. But I’m more disappointed by how this decision was made and communicated to me and to others.

Had I understood the Board had concerns with the way I was leading the College, I would have worked with them to achieve an orderly transition that would cause the least disruption…

Had I understood the Board had concerns with the way I was leading the College, I would have worked with them to achieve an orderly transition that would cause the least disruption to the College, members and employees at such a critical time for the College and general practice, while the Board conducted a full search for my replacement, as is typical in CEO succession where there is no performance or disciplinary issue.

But that option was not afforded to me.

I was escorted from the premises after my meeting with Dr Roeske, had my access to systems immediately removed, and was denied the opportunity to address my Executive Team, employees or members. That was unnecessary and humiliating.

But rather than dwell on how the Board chose to end my employment with the RACGP, I choose to look at all my colleagues and I were able to achieve together.

I am extremely proud what we have accomplished collectively while I have led the RACGP, including (but certainly not limited to):

1. achieving the biggest injection of funds into general practice funding in over a decade in the 2023 Federal Budget,

2. signing the largest funding contract in the College’s history, for the delivery of the AGPT program,

3. delivering the transition of GP training back to the College from the regional training organisations, involving – among many other things – the recruitment and onboarding of 750 new employees, the standup of leases of 20 properties, the development and rollout of a new, nationally consistent educational program, the merging of the data, processes and cultures of eight separate regional training organisations into the RACGP, and a new agency arrangement with JCU for the delivery of the program in North and Western Queensland,

4.the formation of a joint venture with ACRRM to deliver Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural education and cultural mentorship to registrars in both Colleges’ AGPT programs, and providing the means to establish closer links between the two Colleges,

5.the development and successful delivery of the new Fellowship Support Program and the new RACGP-RG pathway,

6.the development and rollout of the RACGP’s new curriculum and syllabus,

7.supporting members to comply with the new CPD requirements imposed by the Medical Board of Australia, including the development of a new website and app that are in use by ~90% of members with CPD requirements,

8.successful delivery of the WONCA conference in Sydney, the largest conference in the RACGP’s history,

9. the delivery of a 3-year financial recovery plan to return the College to operating surpluses following a period of underlying deficits, which will result in the College returning to surplus this financial year, a year ahead of schedule,

10. as part of that financial recovery plan, the implementation of a painful – but necessary – cost reduction exercise including an organisational restructure and downsizing,

11.the restructure of membership categories to reduce administrative overhead, improve fairness, and increase the percentage of members paying the full membership fees, while still resulting in membership renewal rates of >97% of Fellows and Registrars,

12.the commencement of a Governance Review,

13.implementation of significant IT implementation programs, including a Customer Relationship Management system, a Learning Management System, and a Training Management System,

14.significant improvements in the organisational culture of the College, leading to reductions in employee turnover and greater employee engagement,

15.the development and ongoing delivery of the 2022-2025 Operating Plan, and

16.the building of an Executive Team, Executive Advisory Group and Senior Leadership Team that are a highly capable, experienced and cohesive management group that leads the RACGP effectively, all of which led to significant improvements in member satisfaction ratings as measured by the annual member census.

I don’t believe these things would have been able to be achieved without:

  • the vision of the future I created for our people and aligned them around,
  • the 3-year plan we put together to achieve that vision of the future, which the Board approved,
  • the leadership team I assembled to put that plan into play, with Board oversight and involvement,
  • the guidance, coaching and operational decision-making I gave people as they implemented parts of that plan,
  • the improvements in systems and processes we put into place to assist us,
  • the tone I set as we established an environment of psychological safety, so people felt empowered to do their jobs and to have input into what we were doing and how,
  • the transparent flow of information I gave that allowed employees to see how their work fits into the bigger picture, and
  • the human approach to leadership we instilled in our managers.

To the members of the RACGP I have met and engaged with while performing this job, including the hundreds of you who have reached out to me in support following the news that I had been terminated, I want you to know how much I – and all the employees at the RACGP – appreciate the role you perform in keeping Australia healthy, and how much I have enjoyed our interactions at Fellowship Awards ceremonies, exams, conferences, member events, and online. Please hold your elected officials accountable for the culture of the RACGP and push for appropriate governance mechanisms to oversee how the Board is representing you.

Finally, to my colleagues with whom I worked at the RACGP, I wanted to say to you that while it’s always a privilege to serve any organisation as its CEO, leading the RACGP through the extraordinary change program we’ve delivered together has been a privilege I’ll treasure for the remainder of my life.

“I hope I have provided you with the psychological safety, transparency, vision and motivation you have told me you needed.”

I’ve always gone into new roles hoping to have an impact on the organisation while I’m there and to leave an imprint on the organisation after I leave, so that I can say it’s in a better position than when I joined. I hope you will judge me positively on those fronts.

I thank you for your support of and commitment to GPs, patients, the Australian community, the College, its leaders, and me. I hope I have provided you with the psychological safety, transparency, vision and motivation you have told me you needed, and that you have felt enabled to contribute at your best by the supportive culture and environment we have created together. Remember the culture we have created together is yours, and you alone can ensure that it remains a feature of the College.

And I am sorry I didn’t have the opportunity to say goodbye in the manner I would have liked (although some of you may be relieved to not have to endure any more videos from me).

To the more than 300 of you who have reached out to me to express your shock, your sadness, your concern and – yes – your anger, I want you to know how touched I am by your support. I would particularly like to thank our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees for your grace and generosity in helping me to learn more about Indigenous Australia in the last two years than I had learned in the previous 56 years of my life. I want to assure you that this has been life-changing for me, and that I will be active and loud in my allyship and my fight for justice and closing the gap. I won’t ever again take my foot off the accelerator towards a fairer Australia.

If I can leave you all with one last leadership lesson, I hope it will be how to leave a job with your integrity and values intact. And if you determine the RACGP is still the place for you, I hope you will give your full support to your new CEO and make them as proud of you as I have been.

Thank you, and stay in touch, please.

Paul Wappett

What GPs in Healthed’s survey are saying

“It was done suddenly and dramatically and stated was not for disciplinary or wrongdoing reasons. Have we lost the ability to treat others with respect? So is all that prattling on about cultural appropriateness, mutual respect in their educational material just lip service then? The man’s reputation has been tarnished by the “secrecy” If he has done something wrong, tell us, don’t let whispers take hold.”

“It seems disrespectful. The Board must have had compelling reasons to do it this way, so please explain!”

“RACGP is not representative of its members. Treatment of the most recent CEO was very very badly handled. No one likes bullying or seeing this behaviour. Poor role modelling.”

“I was not aware and am disappointed it was not communicated to members well nor the implication of multiple CEOs in a few short years has on credibility of the College.”

“Current Board is appalling in its approach to the CEO ‘firing’. Too many questions they simply are not answering or dealing with. Whole Board should stand down and new Elections held! I won’t be continuing with my membership with RACGP in 2024!”

“Maybe, there is some hidden cause for frequent departures of CEOs and the RACGP needs to address the issues as early as possible.”

“It’s becoming a constant change in the GP setting, we need stability now more than ever.”

“As usual the RACGP play their cards close to their chest. They are not forthright.”

“I never ever support this type of action by the board. Poor explanation and no one knows what is happening inside the centre of college.”

This article was first published on 14 December, and was updated on 15 December, 2023 to include additional survey data.

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Lynnette Hoffman

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Lynnette Hoffman

Managing Editor

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