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My political hobby

Ever wondered what it would be like to stand for Parliament? Dr Paul Charlson, a GP in East Yorkshire and chair of the Conservative Medical Society, describes how he became involved in party politics.

I became interested in being politically involved just before Labour came to power.

My wife stood for the county council and I helped by canvassing. It was fun listening to people’s views, but most of all what struck me was the apathy about the way our country was governed. It was about this time that an Iranian patient said to me: ‘You are lucky in the UK you have democracy, but most of you do not value it’. This struck a chord with me.

I am a Conservative but not in a fanatical rabid way, because I believe in the basic Tory values of less Government interference, empowering people and providing opportunity to everyone. My local branch needed a new chairman and I was asked to do it. I agreed and was quickly thrown into the mire of fundraising rather than political debate, which was not for me.

I went to my first party conference. The fringe meetings on subjects I knew little about were fascinating. The following year, I spoke in the main conference hall. Somebody suggested I should be an MP and I thought why not?

The selection for seats for the 2001 election was coming around. I thought I would apply for a few local seats as I could do this as well as working in my practice. I was, surprisingly, shortlisted for all of them. I was selected to stand for Hull North. It was a ‘no win’ starter seat but I enjoyed the experience and met some great people. Five thousand-odd voted for me and the votes swung in my direction. Post-election I had to think seriously about whether I truly wanted to be an MP and decided it was not for me, the chase being more exciting than the kill.

What I wanted was to influence policy using my skills and medical knowledge. I joined the Conservative Medical Society and am now chairman. This created many contacts – networking is so important in political circles. I am now on the Clinical Advisory Committee of the party which is a group of knowledgeable clinicians who examine and advise on health policy issues. We hopefully help to keep policies real and workable.

I also became involved in Doctors for Refor,m a health think tank and part of the well respected Reform. I now sit on the Steering Group. This looks at healthcare and alternative ways to meet the challenge of funding and organising the NHS in the future. Top up payments was and still is a Doctors for Reform campaign which we ran with the Sunday Times, and this encouraged the Richards report and a change of direction by Government. I think debate about the NHS is often sterile and it is really important to look at the rest of the world and see what works and what does not. Whatever the Government, significant changes in the NHS are inevitable over the next decade and we should consider all options, not simply adopting the status quo. is a relatively new online think tank which I became involved in. This has been very interesting and as a board member I have seen the organisation develop into one which is becoming influential in health politics.

I enjoy my political life and I have met many interesting and positive people not just in the sphere of health care but in the wider world. I have had the opportunity to develop new skills in radio, television, writing and presenting all of which are very helpful in my professional medical life.

It has impacted on occasions on my employability, as some NHS bodies do not like employees speaking out and certainly not against current Government policy. However I feel somebody needs to when this is necessary. Doctors are a very powerful group but rarely use the power for the good of our patients or our profession. Working in the NHS I see many frustrated, talented people whose innovative flair is stifled by too much regulation. This has to change and soon.

As for politicians, they have had a lot of bad press and for good reason, but many are committed hard-working people who have a genuine desire to make the world a better place. They do listen and doctors are in a unique position to exert influence – which is what I would encourage people to do.

Dr Paul Charlson Dr Paul Charlson Parliamentary lecture series for medical trainees

The Younger Members Section of the Conservative Medical Society is running an inaugural series of three evening lectures which is being kindly sponsored by an unrestricted educational grant by Novartis.

The lecture series is open to medical trainees of all political persuasions and none. Each lecture is expected to draw up to 70 medical trainees and will be held in the Macmillan Room, Portcullis House, Westminster.

The schedule for the remaining two lectures is as follows:

Thursday 14th January 2010 – 6.30pm: Prof Chris Ham – Recent Healthcare Reform: from Thatcher to Darzi
Tuesday 26th January 2010 – 6.30pm: Andrew Lansley MP – The Future of the NHS

The organisers, Dr Richard Pinder and Dr Nicholas Woodthorpe have intended for the lecture series to be apolitical with the intention of informing medical trainees on the role of the NHS – past, present and future, with the hope of stimulating tomorrow’s leaders of this most precious of institutions.

For more information, please contact or visit the website.