Doctors who stand for parliament

Dr Kieran Mullan, Conservative Candidate for Birmingham Hodge Hill – why do doctors stand for parliament?

“You’re a doctor, why would you want to be a politician?”

Six months into my first General Election campaign, that question (and other variations of it less suitable for publication), has been asked of me a few times on the doorstep.

The latest polls released in January show that doctors remain the most trusted profession in the UK, at 90%. Politicians are at just 16%. Why would anyone want to leave the most trusted profession to join one of the least?

Voters I have met in Birmingham Hodge Hill often seem happy, maybe even reassured, that they could have a doctor as their MP. They aren’t alone. In the current Parliament voters have elected six doctors to represent them, with Dr Daniel Poulter, Dr Sarah Wollaston and Dr Philip Lee all elected in 2010. And they have done well securing positions of influence, with Poulter becoming a health minister and Wollaston becoming Chair of the Health Select Committee.  It wasn’t long ago that we had a doctor in the Cabinet too (Dr Liam Fox MP).

There is a long history of doctors in Parliament. Nevertheless, some people I meet are genuinely baffled that I would want to be a MP when I could be a full time doctor. For me, I hope it never becomes a complete ‘either/or’ ultimatum. If elected, I would like to maintain some regular medical practice, just as some current ‘Medical Parliamentarians’ do. I hope this would be one of the better examples of where keeping an outside profession really would be beneficial for the public. It would certainly make sure I kept in touch with the reality of frontline public service.

I became a doctor because I wanted to make a positive difference. Over time I thought that I could make more of a positive difference as an MP, than solely working as a doctor. I have already been lucky enough to get some time out from my medical training, working for the Patients Association. Working for the Patients Association helped me understand patients’ perspectives better. As a doctor, you meet individual patients, hear about their problem, use your experience, skill and knowledge and prescribe a plan of treatment that evidence says will best treat them.

Campaigning for an organisation like the Patients Association, and campaigning as a political candidate, is very different. Take one issue I am passionate about – neglect of older people in hospitals. At the Patients Association I wrote reports and collected patient stories that garnered news headlines. It led to a series of inspections of NHS hospitals to identify neglect. By campaigning in this way I was able to help more people than I would ever reach as a sole doctor.

However, political campaigning has its downsides. I know that as a doctor I would have steady flow of people I could help. In politics, as a candidate, nothing is certain.  But once I knew what it felt like to wake up in the morning and spend the day arguing for what I believe to be right and fair, standing up for people I saw were being ignored or neglected, I knew it was a privilege that I wanted to repeat.

Sometimes it’s true that I don’t get the same warm welcome on the doorstep that I would as a GP doing a home visit, but I know that away from the cynicism and negativity that surrounds politics for some people, politics still provides a unique opportunity to make things better – an opportunity that other careers struggle to match.