Dr Francesca Silman, a London GP and co-founder of Justice for Health when she was a junior doctor, told the RCGP annual conference that GPs can use many avenues to take a stand as activists.
Justice for Health rose to prominence after it took health secretary Jeremy Hunt to court in the wake of the junior doctors strikes in 2016.
Doctors can be conflicted about whether they should speak out and be political and others may have fear about potential repercussions in their career, Dr Silman said.
But GPs, who are often self-employed, are in a ‘fantastic position’ to do this because they do not have the same fear of angering their trust as hospital colleagues do, she added.
Feedback about her work with Justice for Health – from patients, peers and employees – had all been positive, she said.
The campaign made her realise how important people power was and how GPs interested in activism can make a real difference simply by signing letters and petitions, writing to their MP and engaging in social media.
‘The biggest thing is time – we’re all super busy with our jobs and it can feel like just another thing to add to the list. I want to promote the idea of armchair activists. There is tonnes you can do at home to support campaigns,' Dr Silman said.
‘It can feel formulaic, but these things really do help, with lots of small actions adding up to make a big impact.
‘One of the main forms of lobbying is talking to your MP,' she added. 'Individual action may not feel like you are making a difference – but when 100s of people write to their MPs saying the same thing it can really make a difference.
‘The best example of really successful letter writing campaign was fox hunting. MPs have told me when this was put in the Tory manifesto, within days they received sack-loads of letters complaining, and it had to be dropped. Unfortunately, they said they rarely get letters about the NHS.’
Social media also plays a large role, even if you just share stories you think are important – as social media 'shares' and 'likes' are often used by the media to assess the success of a story, she said.
‘Just the process of reading a story and sharing it – even if you don’t think you're influencing many people – it makes the press realise it’s something people are interesting and encourages them to write or commission more stories about the subject.’
She said people had told them during their Justice for Health campaign that press interest would die out about the junior doctor contract dispute – and public interest with it. All the government would have to do, they were told, was wait the dispute out until they had no support left.
‘But that didn’t happen,’ she added, ‘and I think this was down to high social media presence.’