Dr David Wrigley interview: A radical voice within the BMA

GP Dr David Wrigley has been critical of the BMA response to NHS reform. Neil Roberts reports on his return to the union's council.

Dr Wrigley: We said we'd carry on campaigning against the marketisation of healthcare (Photo: JH Lancy
Dr Wrigley: We said we'd carry on campaigning against the marketisation of healthcare (Photo: JH Lancy

'Many of us still feel that if the royal colleges and the BMA had got together, they could have stopped the Health Act,' says Lancashire GP Dr David Wrigley.

How closely DH officials pay attention to the internal politics of the BMA one can only speculate, but its council election results last month may have flashed across their radar. Dr Wrigley was among three high-profile opponents of the 2012 Health Act - critics of the government's reforms and the BMA response - voted on to the union's council.

Their electoral success may have raised eyebrows within BMA House, as well as Whitehall.

Leading activists

Health policy academic Professor Allyson Pollock, consultant radiologist Dr Jacky Davis and Dr Wrigley - leading activists in the Keep Our NHS Public campaign and co-authors of the book NHS SOS - will take their seats in the council chamber alongside colleagues in a growing anti-marketisation bloc.

Dr Wrigley first became politicised as a young doctor by the 'gruelling' hours of hospital work in the 1990s. Working hours so unsafe, he says, that he once crashed a car because of tiredness driving home after a shift.

Attracted to general practice by the ideals of family medicine and holistic care, the 'injustice' of doctors' working hours spurred him into BMA activism.

He was elected regional rep for the GP registrars' subcommittee, then chairman; regional GPC rep in 2002 and to the BMA council in 2003, before losing his seat in 2012.

Dr Wrigley and others have been clear that the BMA's opposition to the Health Act came too late. 'We called many times for a campaign of opposition from the outset,' he says. 'That didn't happen. Many of us feel it came too late.'

Born and brought up in Blackpool, Dr Wrigley's career did not begin in medicine. After leaving school at 16 in the mid-1980s, he worked in a high-street bank.

His family were 'surprised' when he quit his secure job at a time of high unemployment to pursue an ambition to be a doctor.

After hospital stints in Derbyshire and Scotland, he returned to the north-west after qualifying as a GP, to work in the 15,000-patient, three-branch practice in Carnforth, where he is now a partner.

Re-election to the BMA council alongside his campaigning colleagues is 'a welcome message to us that we are doing the right thing', he says. In particular, the success of Professor Pollock - who received more votes than any other candidate - sends a strong message, he says.

'It's clarified in our minds that we were saying and doing the right things. We said we'd carry on campaigning against marketisation of healthcare,' he says.

Despite the Health Act becoming law, says Dr Wrigley, the battle to save the NHS from privatisation and commercialisation continues. 'There is still hope for the NHS,' he says, and more and more people are beginning to realise the effects of the government's reforms, and joining the fight.

Campaigning continues

He still sees the BMA as the organisation to lead that fight. 'As a trade union, it is a very powerful body,' he says. 'When the BMA puts its mind to campaigning, it's formidable.'

While he sits on the GPC as a regional rep, Dr Wrigley is also a member of the Medical Practitioners Union, the doctors' section of the Labour partyaffiliated Unite union, which is currently balloting members in other health sections on industrial action over pay.

Dr Wrigley says future industrial action by the BMA over pay and pensions is possible. Many patients' response to BMA action over pensions in 2012 was supportive, he adds.

But the immediate GPC priority must be to campaign against underfunding. The coming year, with a general election on the horizon, will be a 'defining' time for general practice, says Dr Wrigley.

A Labour party member, he believes five more years of the trajectory of 'privatisation and commercialisation could see the end of the NHS'.

Labour's health policy is not yet written, but Dr Wrigley is far from confident his party will do what he thinks is required. It is 'baffling', he says, that the party is not committing to a reversal of the commercialisation of the health service.

Shadow health secretary Andy Burnham, he says, should stand up for general practice and commit Labour to increasing investment by using the £2bn NHS surplus.

'I would try to get the message across that general practice is the bedrock of the NHS,' he says. 'You've got to invest more in it.'

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