Pro-Brexit Doctor Aims for Euro Election Success

Tim Locke

Disclosures

May 03, 2019

Here's an admission. There's been something missing from Medscape News UK's coverage of Brexit so far.

Yes, we've heard from the Government on contingency planning and reassurances about healthcare and staffing in a post-Brexit world. We've heard from organisations like the British Medical Association (BMA) and others about why Brexit could be bad for the NHS. We've even heard from a French doctor practising in the UK about Brexit concerns.

But the missing voices have been doctors and healthcare professionals who are in favour of Brexit. That changes today with Dr David Bull.

   

Dr David Bull

He qualified as a medical doctor in 1993 from St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in London. He worked in general and emergency medicine before focusing on a media career.

He was a regular on The Wright Stuff on Channel 5 in the UK, appears on various US TV shows, and hosts Depression Insights on Medscape's sister site WebMD.

Now he's preparing for another career change – into politics. He's aiming to get elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for North West England. He's standing for Nigel Farage's recently formed Brexit party – a rival to his previous party, UKIP.

Dr Bull was previously selected as a Conservative parliamentary candidate in Brighton, and worked on a sexual health review document for the former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

Having European elections later this month was never in the Government's Brexit script. However, ministers have confirmed voting will go ahead. This year's MEPs would take their seats in Brussels and Strasbourg but would only stay until Britain leaves. If there's a deal to leave after the election the new MEPs may not even get to take up their seats.

Medscape News UK asked Dr Bull why he's standing, about Brexit, the NHS and UK healthcare.

Q&A

What made you want to stand as an MEP?

When the referendum came about, Jeremy Hunt asked me to write a document about why we should stay in the EU from a medical perspective. At this point I was very much a remainer so I approached it like that.

And the more research I did, I realised that actually this was such a complicated argument, because essentially, people were confusing the EU political institution with all the bodies that come from the EU, and they are not the same. So for example, the European Medicines Agency, and so on.

The more I read, the more I came to the conclusion that remaining was not the right thing for the country - we needed to leave. So I swapped sides and campaigned vigorously to leave. 

Then we had the referendum result.

All the politicians said this was a once in a lifetime chance and all of us would respect it. Some say people didn’t know what they were voting for. But they did. They sent a leaflet to every house in the country saying we’re going to leave the EU, we're going to leave the single market, and we're going to leave the customs union. And people voted on that.

Was I surprised by the outcome? No. Being in London, and working in London hospitals, I was surrounded by metropolitan elite who just never entertained the idea that the leave vote would win.

But when I went around the country, and talking to people, interviewing people for medical television shows in the North West and all over the country, there was a disconnect between what people in London were saying, and what people in the country were saying, that I thought it was possible.

But everyone said they would respect that result. And 3 years later, of course, they haven't respected that result.

The reason that I'm standing is because I just feel there is such a fragmentation of democracy. People are furious across the country that the Government has not listened to the mandate of the people.

This is no longer about traditional parties, it is not about being left or right, or centrist. This is about democracy.

I had no intention of getting involved at all, but I was watching the chaos unfold and I just thought I cannot stand here and watch our country becoming a national humiliation. I put my head above the parapet and that's where we are.

The BMA and others have raised Brexit concerns, including over staffing, availability of isotopes for cancer, drug supplies, and research. Are those concerns valid?

Yes, I do think they're valid. Medicine is probably one of the most complex areas in terms of policy going forward.

If you look at the way that medicines freely move at the moment across the EU, we import a lot of medicines, we export a lot of medicines.

There's work to be done there. And actually, if you look at what's been going on, the European Medicines Agency has issued very cogent guidelines about what needs to happen going forward from their point of view.

The government has also made it clear that there is no need to stockpile.

I would argue that going forward, we already comply to EU legislation and all that needs to happen is a deal that says the EU recognises UK standards and the UK recognises EU standards.

We import something like 37 million packs of medicine per month from the EU but we export 45 million. So it is in both parties' interest to ensure the drug regulation continues as it does at the moment.

In terms of staffing, because of the freedom of movement, we have to employ European citizens primarily and, as you know, there's a wealth of talent around the world, particularly from English speaking countries.

And the other thing I will throw into this mix - India makes a third of the world's medicines now. And by 2050, India will make half of the world's medicines.

So I would argue that countries like India - which have such incredible talent, and already has a huge production base, which we are importing, and they make a huge amount of generics - these countries are going to be very, very important going forward because this is about building a global Britain, not an insular European Britain.

Did misleading numbers on the campaign bus about millions of pounds going to the NHS instead of the EU tarnish the view that Brexit could be beneficial for healthcare?

People have disputed the figure, but it still comes back to the fundamental issue of democracy. People were asked a singular question. And they gave an answer. And you then have to plan everything around that.

Obviously there were campaign tactics on both sides. Some I agree with; some I don’t agree with.

But I do feel that if we do not uphold the democratic vote, then we're in serious trouble.

We're meant to be the mother of all democracies, if you look around the world, other democratic systems are based on ours.

And I think currently, we are a laughing stock.

Unless the referendum mandate is ignored or overturned, this could be a very short political career couldn't it?

It's extraordinary really. It's like turkeys voting for Christmas. Essentially, I'm standing on a mandate of trying to get rid of my own job.

But it's not about me, it's about the principal. And I hope I am a very principled person.

Obviously, we don't know if the European elections will go ahead. My feeling is that Theresa May will try and force her deal back through again.

I think it would be outrageous if that deal was approved. I know there's huge political pressure. But meeting people all over the country, the public just won't wear it. The public are not stupid.

Going back to medicine, whether you are a healthcare provider, whether you're a doctor, whether you are a pharmaceutical manufacturer, what people need more than anything is certainty. And if her deal goes through, we go into the transition period of 21 months, and if they can't agree a deal there, and there's no onus on them to do so, we have a 4-year extension.

Now I ran a business and I employed 50 people, and no business can possibly work under those situations.

The point about stuff like regulations is these are serious issues, and they need to be dealt with. But at the moment we're trying to deal with too many confounding variables, you need certainty one way or the other so businesses can plan.

Is this a one-off or do you now have a taste for politics?

I think politics is the most important thing that we can offer the country.

I know we're a very divided country, and that has to stop. But the great thing about this is that people are engaged in politics. And I think that is a brilliant thing.

I think it's also worth saying that I don't think this is just about Brexit.

I think this is about where we want the UK to go. And I think this is about fighting for a free, independent, self-governing country.

So in answer to your question, I feel very passionate that I am doing something that I feel is right.

Now people may disagree with me. Many of my friends who are doctors are remainers. And they have a different opinion to me. But the great thing is they've been very supportive and they think it's good that I'm standing up for what I believe in. And that's the whole point.

I think it's important. I aim to do the best I can. I'm focusing on the EU elections, because that's the job in hand.

I think what you're going to see is a massive fragmentation of all political parties. I think this is such a seismic moment in British history, and that's a good thing.

The political system is completely broken. We shouldn’t be divided according to those traditional party lines. We have far more in common with each other than the stuff that divides us.

Editor's Notes:

28th May 2019: Dr Bull was elected as an MEP for the North West of England for the Brexit Party. 

7th May 2019: Updated after Government confirmation that EU elections would go ahead on May 23rd. 

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