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Swapping the health centre for the hustings

Two GPs who will stand as parliamentary candidates for the first time on 6 May share the ups and downs of the campaign trail

LABOUR: Dr Ian Campbell

When the general election was called, it was merely the last round of a prolonged campaign – almost two years of working with the local community, keeping a presence in the media and championing local causes. I'm standing as Labour candidate in Newark and District, which is regarded as a safe Conservative seat. Any doctor standing for parliament needs a threatened hospital closure to add real thrust to their campaign. It was with some surprise to me, and particularly bad timing for our incumbent MP, that in December 2009 the PCT announced the local A&E was to be downgraded to a minor injuries unit. With more than 14,000 names collected on petitions, and massive outcry, the only person who seemed unaware of the public concern was our retired colonel MP. Enter stage left the good doctor, called on by residents to save Newark Hospital.

Finding time to campaign while practising has been difficult, but the last two weeks, when I'm freed from work, will present a great opportunity to get my message across. Unfettered by accusations of fiddling expenses, my profession as a GP can be a great asset on the doorstep. Suggestions that I want to do the job for the money don't wash – I would be taking a pay cut. Almost every political issue has a health impact and when I'm stuck for an answer, a return to active listening usually works. Twenty years as a GP has not prepared me for kissing babies (I haven't) but it has been great training for public consultations, reasoned argument and problem-solving on the doorstep (I have).

Swapping the consulting room for the hustings might seem strange. But my work over the last 10 years raising the profile of obesity as a health issue and addressing health inequalities have made me realise I wanted to achieve more than I could in a consultation. Improving housing, investing in schools, protecting the NHS and giving every adult the opportunity of rewarding employment is worth stepping out of my comfort zone to achieve.

Dr Ian Campbell is a GP in Nottingham;

CONSERVATIVE: Dr Sarah Wollaston

As a GP trainer in rural Dartmoor, I have the best job in the country, so why give it up to be an MP?

Well, I was fed up with ticking boxes, sick of the target culture and alarmed by the city-centric model being imposed on the NHS. The proposed closure of our community hospital was the last of many last straws. I went to a parliamentary assessment board and found there really was a drive to have people with real life experience representing the Conservative party.

On the doorstep I'm asked, ‘Wouldn't you be more help to the NHS as a GP?' I explain I hope to do more by fighting on the inside than shouting from the outside.

It has been an education. If you think you've met every kind of strangeness and anger after decades in medicine, try politics. The hostility towards politicians is brutal. I worry we may be too late to restore faith in our political system and that the odds are stacked against normal people trying to survive in its shark-infested waters. Abusive letters, door slamming, heckling, long hours (all unpaid) keeping abreast of emails and deadlines; what's there to like?

It's been the steepest learning curve of my life, but a platform for the things I really care about.

I want to stop the train wreck caused by binge drinking and the erosion of professionalism caused, among other things, by the working time directive and pointless targets. I want to ensure rural communities are taken into account when healthcare decisions are made and I want to shout about mental health provision.

A good MP should be like a good GP. You need to engage with anyone who walks in the door, to connect and take a good history. MPs need to be able to break down barriers to change, press for realistic solutions and know when to ask for help. I hope I get the chance, but if, on 7 May, I am back at work scraping egg off my lapel, I would not have missed taking the journey.

Dr Sarah Wollaston is a GP in Chagford, Devon;

Dr Sarah Wollaston Dr Sarah Wollaston Dr Ian Campbell