Election 2010: The GPs hoping to become MPs

All three main political parties have GP candidates in the general election. Why do they want to be MPs, and what are their chances? Tom Ireland and Susie Sell report.

Dr Sarah Wollaston, Totnes, Devon
Dr Sarah Wollaston was elected by constituents as the Conservative candidate for Totnes, in Devon, in Britain's first-ever 'open primary'.

A GP in Chagford, Devon, she became interested in politics four years ago while defending her local community hospital from closure. 'I felt strongly and decided to apply as a candidate because of how powerless you feel,' she says.

Dr Wollaston's first application was unsuccessful, but she found 'plenty of enthusiasm' within politics for GPs as MPs.

Dr Wollaston later made national news after winning the primary last year with 7,914 votes to her closest rival's 5,495.

Despite describing her current job as a part-time GP in Dartmoor as 'the best job in the world', Dr Wollaston will have to step down if elected, due to rules imposed after the expenses scandal.

But GPs have a plethora of transferable skills to take into politics, she says, and more should be in senior positions in Westminster.

'We interact with people with different points of view all the time. We can engage with people and involve them.'

Dr Wollaston aims to 'remind politicians that a lot of people live in rural areas'.

'I'd like to see my local health service not planned around the needs of big cities,' she says.

Other GPs running for the Conservatives

  • Dr Philip Lee, Bracknell, Berkshire
  • Dr Rachel Joyce, Harrow West, London

Dr Charles West, Shewsbury and Atcham, Shropshire
Dr Charles West, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Shrewsbury and Atcham, thinks his GP experience will stand him in good stead in the May elections.

He says GPs know more about what patients need than the government, and often more than the patients themselves. This is not limited to their medical needs, he says.

'GPs have the privileged position to go into the community's houses and understand the real issues for people. Not just medically, but in terms of the problems in society, such as unemployment, lack of housing, and the environment.'

Despite this, if he is successful in the elections, Dr West will not continue to practise. He admits he would miss it as it has been a 'super career'.

For Dr West, the NHS is one of the key issues, and he says his main concerns have been the 'constant reorganisation' and 'creeping privatisation' under a Labour government.

'It stinks that senior politicians are getting money from private companies involved in getting profits from the NHS. The whole thing is very damaging and wasteful,' he says.

Dr West also suggests an overwhelming Conservative victory would 'leave the NHS in a mess'.

What are his chances in the election? 'The bookies have me at about 14/1, but the Conservatives are seriously worried about me,' he says.

Dr Ian Campbell, Newark, Nottinghamshire
The NHS will be under threat if the Conservatives are voted in at the elections next month, according to the Labour candidate for Newark.

Dr Ian Campbell says he believes the NHS has been improved over the past 13 years, and this work could be undone if the Tories are voted in.

'I remember all too well the difficulties we faced during the last Conservative reign when the NHS was on its knees,' he says. 'All the work done under Labour needs to be protected and continuingly invested in.'

Dr Campbell says working to protect the NHS is one of the reasons he is running as MP for Newark. 'I think it's important that we have people who have experience of the health sector working within government.'

As the founder and former chairman of the National Obesity Forum, he has experience of working with politicians.

'I have an awareness of the importance of taking a broader approach to health,' he adds. 'We have to improve all major public health issues, including housing, employment and education.'

Although Dr Campbell is fighting a safe Tory seat, he believes concerns about downgrading the local A&E department could have an impact.

'Local residents are disillusioned that the Tories have failed to address this.'

Other GPs running for Labour

Dr Steven Bick, West Dorset; Dr Amanjit Jhund, Windsor, Berkshire; Dr Adrian Heald, Macclesfield, Cheshire; Dr Rajendra Seeruthun, Maidstone & the Weald, Kent

OTHER GPs STANDING
Dr Steven Ford, Hexham, Northumberland

Dr Steven Ford is standing as an independent candidate in the constituency of Hexham, Northumberland.

Bookmakers' odds of Dr Ford overturning the 5,000 Conservative majority have fallen from 100/1 to 33/1, and he is the candidate most money has been placed on.

'The support really has been extremely gratifying,' he says.

'There is no time like the present to dislodge the current parties. There are hundreds of independents standing this year and 2010 will be the most interesting election of my lifetime.'

Dr Ford entered politics in 2008 having become disillusioned with the bureaucracy of general practice. 'I was being driven mad by box-ticking and bureaucracy. It wasn't the job I trained for any more,' he says.

Dr Ford was inspired by hospital consultant Dr Richard Taylor, his 'first boss', who has been MP for Wyre Forest in Kidderminster since 2001.

He hopes to give a local voice to the rural northern constituency and his priority for the NHS is to cut bureaucracy.

GPs and nurses should 'be given their autonomy back,' he says, 'not managed into silos'.

Dr Ford believes many GPs are ideal candidates, and has urged more medical professionals to stand for parliament.

'Being an MP needs to be a caring profession, not some ideological quest for power. People come to you with a range of problems, much like they do to a GP.'

CURRENT LABOUR GPS IN PARLIAMENT

Dr HOWARD STOATE

  • Labour MP for Dartford, Kent, since 1997.
  • Member of health select committee, and cross-party primary care and pharmacy groups.
  • Standing down and will not seek re-election in May.

Dr LIAM FOX

  • Conservative MP for North Somerset since 1992.
  • Shadow secretary of state for defence since 2005.
  • Previously worked as a GP in Nailsea, near Bristol.

Dr ANDREW MURRISON

  • Conservative MP for South West Wiltshire since 2001.
  • Shadow minister for defence since 2007.
  • From 2000, worked as a GP locum in Wiltshire having served 18 years as a medical officer in the Royal Navy.
Click here for more news and analysis of the general election

 

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