Dr Harry Nespolon, Sydney GP and the president of the RACGP, died on Sunday, nine months after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
Dr Nespolon, the face of the largest professional and educational body for GPs, was well-known for his deep passion for primary care and his willingness to work for change both inside the RACGP, and in the GP profession.
He leaves behind his partner Lindy, his children Ella and Hannah – whom he called his “butterflies” – and many dear colleagues and friends.
With more than two decades as a GP, Dr Nespolon was integral in establishing and developing various medical practices with a strong focus on providing multi-disciplinary care for patients.
His passion for understanding the business side of health extended well beyond his experience as a doctor.
After studying medicine, he returned to university not once, but three more times, studying degrees in law, health law and business.
Dr Nespolon was the owner of two general practices and held membership on a number of boards and committees, such as the Northern Sydney Local Health District and GP Synergy.
He also had stints working for the Australian Medical Association, as an RACGP examiner, and for Medicines Australia.
Integrating his skills in medicine and policy, Dr Nespolon became an elected RACGP council member in the NSW faculty in 2012.
Six years later, in July 2018, he was elected RACGP president.
RACGP Vice President, Associate Professor Ayman Shenouda – who will take on the role of acting president until a permanent replacement is named in November, as per the college constitution – said the college would honour the legacy of Dr Nespolon.
“I have the highest respect for Harry and everything he was able to achieve for the general practice community,” he said.
“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.”
RACGP board chair Christine Nixon said Dr Nespolon had achieved an astounding amount in his time as president despite his deteriorating health.
“The RACGP Board is in awe of everything Harry has been able to achieve, particularly over the last seven months,” she said.
“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.”
When elected just two years ago he told NewsGP that “It’s about what [the college] looks like in two years’ time, not about what it looks like today, so we actually can achieve something, change some things, make life better for our members.”
And even though Dr Nespolon died before he could see out his term as president, he certainly lived to see a college that looks very different from the one he inherited two years earlier.
In his time as college president he saw a change in the organisation’s CEO, the summer bushfires of 2019, and the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic – which he handled with leadership that was both calm and reassuring.
Dr Nespolon, while facing his own health battles, was actively lobbying for GPs right up until the end of his life – for clearer public health advice throughout the pandemic, for adequate PPE and for the revision of telehealth criteria to ensure that GPs remained at the front and centre of patient care.
His messages for GPs and the public throughout the pandemic were both clear and comforting.
Dr Nespolon was also dear friend to our magazine, appearing on our podcasts and always making time to talk about issues important to the GP community.
In his last interview with The Medical Republic, Dr Nespolon spoke with passion about the role GPs were playing on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He will be greatly missed.