I had politics done to me, now I do politics
Dr Will Sapwell
“If you ‘don’t do politics’ … Politics will do you” wrote Christina Engela in her book Dead Man’s Hammer.
2016 was a turning point for me because of two key political events. The Junior Doctors’ contract dispute had been tough – industrial action was the only option left when it was clear that the government weren’t listening. Then, in June 2016, the Brexit referendum went a way I had never expected it to.
Did I wish the UK to remain in the EU? Yes.
Did I campaign for the ‘remain’ side at all? No.
Had I ‘done politics’? No.
Had I had politics done to me? Yes!
Previously, when confronted with the frustrations of life as a medical student or junior doctor, I had utilised my roles within the British Medical Association (BMA) to effect change. But my concerns regarding Brexit required something more, and that’s why I became a member of the Liberal Democrats in June 2016.
You may come from a different political background, but I hope to advocate the importance of health professionals’ involvement in politics, whatever your affiliation.
The world of politics has never been more open to doctors
When I became a party member, I found my interest fell on fertile ground. It was made clear very early on that my opinion would be sought on local and national health policy. There is a real hunger in politics for new blood from ‘real world’ backgrounds – specifically to inform policy. Johnny Mercer MP, an ex-Army Captain, now feeds into the Defence select committee. Layla Moran MP has used her experience as a teacher in her role as the Lib Dems’ education spokesperson.
There are currently nine doctors and four nurses elected to the House of Commons – notably Dr Sarah Wollaston MP chairs the Health Select Committee. But with all the challenges the NHS faces, more expertise is needed.
It’s important not to forget the political capital we have as health professionals. The general public trust us and the Junior Doctor Contract dispute went a long way in cementing this. This has not gone unnoticed by political parties, and my experiences as a leader amongst junior doctors went some way towards helping gain approval as a prospective parliamentary candidate.
You don’t need to be an MP to make a difference
It’s not all about national politics! I would highly recommend you find out how many of your local councillors come from health backgrounds, seeing as local government representatives will be involved in the local Clinical Commissioning Group and will hold responsibilities in health promotion, health protection, social care and some health services.
In Sheffield, I’ve been involved in a local campaign to prevent urgent care being consolidated in one centre at the Northern General Hospital. I had initially been in support of such a move as it made sense from a purely service provision point of view. However, local residents made it very clear that moving services to the North East of the city would make them inaccessible to many. Our councillors have thus intervened at consultation meetings and the decision is under review.
Engaging in politics has therefore not only allowed me to put forward my views, but has also opened my eyes to the needs of patients that I might not have considered before.
At a recent conference, I was asked over dinner why I was so involved in politics.
I responded with my usual line, which is part jest, part serious – “I do it for the power”.
As I did then, I’ll follow that up very quickly with an explanation. As a doctor, I face many problems that cannot solved by myself or my team. Getting involved in politics has enabled me to take positions of influence, where I’m able to make the changes I know need making, ultimately allowing my colleagues and I to look after our patients better.
___ Will Sapwell is a core medical trainee in South Yorkshire and the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) for Barnsley East.