Working life: Practising politics
Dr Onkar Sahota, GP principal and London Assembly member, describes a typical week
Profile: Dr Onkar Sahota
Roles: London Assembly member for Ealing and Hillingdon; chair, London Assembly Health Committee; Labour health spokesperson; GP principal in west London
Hours worked: Most weekdays at London Assembly; four GP sessions per week; evenings and weekends in meetings and in the surgery
London Assembly salary: £56,270 per annum
Today I’m doing two clinical sessions, catching up with my practice team and my office at the Assembly in between patients. I still enjoy practising and it gives me a sharp insight into the impact of health policies on the front line of the NHS; this also informs my political work.
I arrive at City Hall for 10am and attend a briefing with the Metropolitan Police about the merging of London borough command units.
I then meet journalists to record TV interviews on the centenary commemorations of women being given the vote. This involves a trip outside into the breezy Thames air – the iconic ‘glass egg’ designed by Norman Foster is a popular backdrop for news broadcasts.
After this I chair a two-hour meeting of the Labour group. I have now been on the Assembly for six years. In 2012, I was the first Labour politician to be elected for the Ealing and Hillingdon constituency. I believe my links to the area, growing up in Southall and practising there for 15 years as a GP, have helped me gain the support and confidence of voters.
In the afternoon, I chair the Assembly’s Health Committee meeting, where we put questions to experts on child health, to scrutinise the ‘healthy early years’ initiatives in the mayor’s strategy for reducing health inequalities.
I spend the morning at a plenary session where we put questions to the fire commissioner about emergency preparedness and the Grenfell Tower response. In the afternoon, I meet the director of public health for London to discuss the mayor’s draft health inequalities strategy.
Then I head to a meeting with GPs from my LMC in west London. They’re concerned about proposals in the local sustainability and transformation plan (STP) and I can help raise concerns. GPs increasingly report it is difficult to challenge STP decisions because CCG board members are also LMC officials; this reflects a wider concern I have over the accountability of STPs and future ‘integrated care systems’.
Today I chair a day of workshops on the Taylor report on employment practices in a modern economy, which emphasises the importance of a work-life balance. I’m acutely aware of how this affects GPs, and their high risk of burnout. In London, along with extortionate premises costs, this is further destabilising the GP partnership model – only 40% of London GPs are partners compared with 90% in the 1990s. I am commissioning a report on a Government-run salaried GP service to address this problem, looking at a structured role with progression from associate to consultant, to offer greater security and scope for professional development.
My second day at the practice. A patient complains he has not been given an appointment with his chosen consultant. Despite Government rhetoric on patient choice, trusts assign patients to the shortest list to meet targets. I let the patient vent and he accepts my explanation; I am straight with my patients about what I believe are failings due to political decisions. One of the main reasons I came into politics was to try to influence the wider system.
Today I read policy papers and briefs in preparation for the week ahead, before heading to Villiers High School in Southall for an International Mother Language Day celebration, one of the many fantastic community events in the area. In the evening I settle down with a book. I enjoy history books in particular.
A rare day off from campaigning with Labour Party members ahead of the local elections, so I have a relaxed start, but go to the practice for 11am and spend four hours on patient letters and other administration. It is increasingly burdensome running the practice with two salaried doctors – relying on locums means I often have to tie up loose ends.