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At the heart of general practice since 1960

Why I chose... to be a political campaigner

Running campaigns for what you believe in helps you feel true to yourself, Dr Irvine writes, but you’ve got to expect some knocks to your confidence too

Name: Louise Irvine

Age: 56

Title: GP partner

Location: Amersham Vale Practice, Deptford, London

Background

I have been a partner in my practice for 18 years. Before that, while my children were very young, I was a locum and retainer scheme GP. And before that, just after qualifying as a doctor, I worked for 2 years in Nicaragua having helped set up the charity, Scottish Medical Aid for Nicaragua. I am now a trainer and programme director for the Lewisham GP training scheme.

I have been campaigning to defend the NHS for about the past 5 years as a member of Keep our NHS Public and I am on the executive of the new National Health Action Party. I was elected to BMA Council last year. I am chair of the Save Lewisham Hospital Campaign which has mounted a big campaign, the high point of which was a demonstration of 25,000 people in the London borough of Lewisham in January. The campaign has launched a judicial review of Jeremy Hunt’s decision to close our hospital.

Why I chose this work

Some people might think this set of interests and roles – GP, educator and political activist - is an unusual combination for a doctor. Perhaps it is, but to me it feels totally normal and natural as it is all in keeping with who I am, my values and my passions.

I decided to become a doctor from an early age for the idealistic reasons of wanting to help people and make the world a better place. That is why I went to Nicaragua and helped set up a charity to fund health projects there. I believe that doctors can have a vital role in supporting and advocating for their patients. For me general practice brings all this together which is why I love the work, and why I enjoy teaching the next generation of GPs.

Sadly, all those things I hold so dear are under threat from the attacks on the fundamental principles of the NHS by the encroachment of free market policies within health care, undermining our professional values and the care our patients receive. I just couldn’t sit back and let this happen. My approach is that if you think something is wrong you have to get together with others to try to change it, which is why I am a political campaigner.

Advantages

From the point of view of personal well-being, there is a distinct advantage to having several professional roles in that you feel you are being true to yourself. I believe that each role supports and enriches the other. In each of them I have the satisfaction of feeling I am making a difference – although there may be setbacks, there are also successes. I’ve learned I can be more effective working with others than on my own. Along the way I have met some wonderful people who have really inspired me. 

Challenges

Finding the time and energy to do all the things you want to do is my main challenge. I try to be well-organised but in the end I think that if things are important to you, you find the time to do them.

You must avoid ‘role muddle’. It’s important that you give everything you are doing your full attention so that the different roles don’t suffer neglect.

The main political challenges are staying optimistic in the face of what can sometimes seem like insurmountable obstacles, and encouraging others to become active.

Skills

Electronic and social media are a great way to organise and stay in touch with fellow campaigners and the wider world. I communicate and share ideas and links to interesting articles and opinions through Twitter (@drmarielouise). 

I think you have to value other people’s ideas and contributions  - our save Lewisham Hospital campaign would not be what it is today unless we had been able to embrace a huge range of talented people. I like to get my hands dirty doing the really practical stuff – I can make placards and banners, design leaflets, set up a street stall in no time, organise a public meeting, demo or protest, write a press release, give a TV or radio interview – all these skills I have learned from others and I hope to be able to pass on to others.

Most of all you need to be hopeful and not let the cynics get you down. A better world is possible.

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