COMMENTARY

Doctors Standing for Parliament: The Brexit Party

Peter Russell

Disclosures

November 15, 2019

Medscape UK is talking to doctors who want to be MPs.

Dr David Bull, 50, qualified in 1993 from St Mary's Hospital Medical School in London.

He worked in emergency medicine at Ealing Hospital, and in general and emergency medicine at the Whittington Hospital in North London.

However, he is best known for his television career as on-screen doctor for Sky Travel, and broadcasting to children about health on the BBC's Newsround programme. He's also hosted Depression Insights on Medscape's sister site WebMD.

   

Dr David Bull

He has served as a Brexit Party member of the European Parliament (MEP) for North West England since July 2019.

Dr Bull, who is the Brexit Party's spokesperson on health, is standing as prospective parliamentary candidate in this December's general election in the safe Labour constituency of Sedgefield, once held by former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Q&A

What made you want to stand in the general election?

My background is not in politics, and I stood to become a member of the European Parliament to ensure the democratic will of the people was respected.

I was furious that we had the largest ever democratic vote, and politicians on every side said they would respect the result of the referendum, and they refused to do so.

We have had successive prime ministers who have promised, as Boris [Johnson] did, to get Brexit done, and essentially he came back with a re-heated version of Theresa May's deal.

As you probably know, there's the political declaration and the withdrawal agreement: 95% of it is the same. There are some things in there which are deeply worrying and I think my job really is to keep the Government's feet to the fire, and I think actually it's good for democracy to have politicians from all parties in Westminster.

Ultimately, what I want is a proper Brexit – the Brexit that people voted for.

What effect do you think Brexit would have on the NHS?

The first thing is, it's about the democratic will of the people first and foremost; but secondly, since I've been an MEP, I've done a lot of work trying to myth-bust this nonsense about a cliff-edge Brexit and all these ridiculous stories about a lack of medicines.

It's not true, and it's very dangerous.

And to substantiate that, I've spoken to the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries; I've spoken to the NHS Confederation; I've spoken to pharmaceutical manufacturers across Europe.

You've got to remember that the pharmaceutical trade is bilateral and reciprocal. So, we export 45 million packs of medicines a month; we import 37 million packs of medicines a month. It's in both parties' interests to ensure that there is a free flow of medicines.

As a physician, as a trained doctor, I would not stand for something that I believed could damage people's health.

My biggest concern about this is that yet again we've seen 'project fear', and this time it's about medicines, and it's not acceptable.

What would you like to change about the NHS?

For me, health is the great leveller. Without your health, you have nothing.

The NHS, when it works well, is absolutely fantastic and it's something we need to ensure that we future-proof.

There are examples, obviously, of where it is not brilliant. I think there are a number of things. One is that for me, now I am the health spokesman, the NHS needs to remain free at the point of need – this is absolutely vital.

I want to also stop any further privatisation of the health service, and I think we need to look very carefully at the bits that are privatised and whether they're working and giving taxpayers' value for money.

I think we really need a national conversation about what people expect from the NHS. I think we need to have a very serious conversation about if we, as a nation, treasure it so much, what are we willing to pay for it?

And I would like to explore things like a hypothecated tax – an NHS contribution.

I think if you spelt that out, and if people could see exactly what they're paying and where it goes, and if we ring-fence it, I think people would be open to paying more for the NHS and we could be very clear about what services we provide.

And that includes social care and provision for the elderly. This is another thing I'm very passionate about: the way we treat older people in society is, I think, appalling.

Can you combine your medical interests with being a politician?

Everyone keeps saying, 'how did you end up doing this?'

Really, my life has been one long continuum. So, I've always been a campaigner, whether it's as a clinician or when I went into television.

I've campaigned for all sorts of things, whether it's cleaning up dirty hospitals, introducing new-born screening for cystic fibrosis, care of the elderly, and so on.

And so, for me, this is a natural extension which is to fight, in political circles now, rather than being a campaigner on television, to improve health care.

It's totally unacceptable that people's health outcomes are decided by where you live. For example, in the North East we know that levels of depravation, the alcohol dependency, psychiatric illnesses and mental health problems, means that morbidity is higher and actually people die younger.

And so that's what I intend to do, which is fight for great health care for everyone, regardless of where you live.

What transferable skills do you have to take to Westminster?

I think, as doctors, we're taught to listen – you have two ears and one mouth.

But also I think politics has become so vile, that actually to inject some humanity back into it, and actually caring about people, which is what clinicians do, is no bad thing.

Also, another thing I think doctors and clinicians do is they're good communicators, and I hope they are transferable skills.

If you are a doctor, and standing as an MP next month, we'd like to hear from you – please email us .

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