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The Policy Ask with Julia Patterson: “No one should seek to profit from public healthcare”

The founder of medic-led campaign group EveryDoctor on NHS privatisation, the role of experts and the climate crisis.

By Spotlight

Julia Patterson is the founder and chief executive of EveryDoctor, an organisation campaigning for a better NHS and better working conditions for doctors. She is a doctor herself, having qualified from the University College London (UCL) medical school in 2010, and became a member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in 2015. She has now given up her General Medical Council (GMC) licence to practice, and does full-time advocacy work for NHS staff and patients.

How do you start your working day?

I have two small children, so start my working day before they wake up (around 6am, when it’s really peaceful!). I like to start by catching up on correspondence from doctors and patients first of all; it usually alerts me to the most pressing things happening in the NHS at any time.

What has been your career high? 

It’s quite difficult to speak about career highs as a campaigner. Inevitably our most productive times happen when things are going badly wrong for a lot of people and there’s a huge amount of concern and worry, which lead to any policy wins we achieve. I think my career high has been the realisation that EveryDoctor is becoming a strong community of doctors and not just an idea in my head. The compassion and strength generated by the people involved is incredible. I’m so fortunate to be a part of all of that.

What has been the most challenging moment of your career?  

I worked as a doctor for a decade and then finally decided to campaign full-time, so I have a career of two halves. The hardest thing as a doctor was recognising my limitations, the limitations of medicine and also of the service. Recognising those things is difficult; every patient matters enormously to the clinician caring for them. As a campaigner, the first months of Covid-19 were incredibly challenging. Doctors realised before most what was going to happen, and to be lobbying for emergency policy changes and watching events unfold as doctors had predicted in real time was excruciating. The doctors within the EveryDoctor community showed such strength and compassion. It was truly humbling. 

If you could give your younger self career advice, what would it be?   

I think I’d encourage myself to question the established ways of doing things more. It is absolutely essential that medicine relies on a solid evidence base, but I think I perhaps allowed that thinking to permeate into other areas of my life. New ideas and unconventional ways of approaching things can be really effective.

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Which political figure inspires you?  

I think I’m more inspired by social movements than figures. I find it fascinating how ideas can catch on, and how humans can mobilise behind a cause. Progress is never carried by one person; they’ll just be riding the crest of a wave of feeling.

What UK policy or fund is the government getting right?  

I’m struggling to think of an answer to this. I think they have a lot of work to do to improve things. 

And what policy should the UK government ditch?  

The UK government should halt and reverse NHS privatisation. No one should be seeking to profit from public healthcare. 

What upcoming UK policy or law are you most looking forward to? 

I’m not looking forward to any of them. I’m particularly terrified about the government’s lack of action towards the climate emergency.

What piece of international government policy could the UK learn from?  

Not a specific policy, but an approach. Many countries during the pandemic listened to experts and really took their views into account. The UK was severely lacking in this regard. The government needs to start listening to experts again, particularly in the middle of a national crisis.

If you could pass one law this year, what would it be? 

I’d make serious, far-reaching commitments regarding the UK’s contribution to tackling the climate emergency. 

[See also: Explained: where will NHS nurses strike and how will it impact me?]

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