Entering the Political Arena

It’s hard to turn on the television or read a newspaper at the moment without feelings of anger and injustice bubbling to the surface. Increasingly antagonistic headlines such as “Hunt slams NHS double standards as consultants fight orders to work seven days a week”  or “Doctors and nurses told to say sorry for mistakes” appear to further demoralise and destabilise a workforce who already feel they are doing all of the above an beyond.

I find myself jumping to the defense (rightly or wrongly) of colleagues across the country and proclaiming the idiocy of our health minister on Facebook. This all underlies my firm belief that our beloved national

health service is currently in the wrong hands and would be much better off in the hands of it’s front-line staff who experience every ‘up and down’ of this increasingly complex organisation on a daily basis and therefore have an intrinsic understanding of what needs to be changed and where it’s deficiencies lie. I swelled with pride at the recent BMA response to Jeremy Hunt’s ultimatum regarding 7 day working within NHS following the publication of the recent DDRB report, branding it an ‘empty rhetoric’.

However, if you put me in a ring with Mr Jeremy Hunt, I’d probably be torn to sheds. Politics is not my ‘comfort zone’. In fact, in the past I have considered myself above the sniping debates of these hippocritical suited types, choosing to concentrate on my self-percieved more worthy goal of caring for patients on a person-to-person basis.

However as I advance along my medical career path with an increased understanding of top-down policy and how it affects our patients, I have developed the overwhelming realisation, that to be a doctor, I need to be ‘political’. Working and living in Wales, I was interested to see a recent BMA website survey regarding the Welsh Governments proposal to strip politicians of the ability to make final decisions on changes to the health service. An overwhelming 78% of members felt this would be appropriate, highlighting the disconnect that doctors feel from the current political arena. 

Dr Rudolf Virchow, a prominent german doctor and politician who died in 1902, famously proclaimed, “Medicine is a social science, and politics nothing but medicine at a larger scale”. He held the firm belief that social inequality was a root cause of ill-health and that doctors who have an intimate knowledge of the problems in society made better politicians.  This makes a great deal of sense when you think about it!

Therefore as doctors, how far should we go in influencing political policy? Surely our expertise lends to more than just the running of our national health service and could extend to education, economic and environmental policies. Just a thought and a nudge towards some wider reading. I’m not quite a political activist yet but I’ve got my foot on the bottom rung of the ladder.

Further Reading

  1. Politics is nothing but medicine at a larger scale: reflections on public health’s biggest idea. J Epidemiol Community Health 2009;63:181-184 doi:10.1136/jech.2008.077032

  1. http://bma.org.uk

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